How ADA is Supporting Volunteerism in Kosovo

It is considered that volunteering helps societies become strong and cohesive, tackling social exclusion and helping deliver critical services to the community.

UNICEF
Alma Gashi showcasing her project at DokuTech in Prishtina.
UNICEF/Kosovo
12 December 2018

It is considered that volunteering helps societies become strong and cohesive, tackling social exclusion and helping deliver critical services to the community. Volunteerism amongst youth, in particular, helps the latter feel part of their community and gain life skills while developing a lifelong service ethic.

One exemplary volunteer in Kosovo, who has spent much of her adolescence lending a helping hand to worthwhile causes is Alma Gashi. Being a volunteer since primary school, the now 17-year-old Alma has been involved in activities ranging from environment protection and charity, to tutoring her peers and being an active member of the centre of culture in her city.

“I never categorized my volunteer activities, I always did what I thought was best for the community,” Alma says. “I have come to understand that being a volunteer means giving a priceless contribution to society, which also develops one’s personality.”

Together with 3 of her peers, Alma also founded ‘Let’s See’, an ADA-supported UPSHIFT* winning youth-led project, which for a period of three months organized activities such as free eye checkups in the city square and school visits in order promote eye health.

“Being a member of ‘Let’s See’ and becoming part of the [Innovations] Lab family was a life-changing experience for me, so I later asked to become a volunteer at the Lab and was able to lend my help in several of their activities and workshops,” she says.

But although Alma and many of her peers recognize the importance of volunteering, their journey in community service is rarely all smooth sailing. “Even though I was lucky enough to find volunteerism chances, many of my peers don’t,” Alma says. “Sometimes it’s really hard for us to find the right opportunities to volunteer in, and our working hours are not formally recognized.”

Whilst conducting regular human-centered consultations with the youth of Kosovo, the Innovations Lab found out that a lot of Alma’s coevals shared the same concerns. An emerging paradigm was becoming increasingly evident: While, youth were constantly engaged in volunteerism, there was no way for them to get formally acknowledged for the community service they were doing. Additionally, youth also expressed that there was no systematic way of finding volunteer opportunities.

Considering that UNICEF Innovations Lab possessed the technological expertise and youth development expertise, it set out to develop a panacea for all the shortcomings of youth volunteerism in Kosovo: a matchmaking platform for CSOs and volunteers, tied to formal legislature.

Once the initiative on volunteerism in Kosovo took ground, with the endless support of ADA, UNICEF Innovations Lab sought strategic partnership, and found it with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, and the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. The idea was to review the existing Administrative Instruction on Youth Volunteer Work to answer to the needs of youth, particularly when it comes to easy access to volunteer opportunities.

Soon after, the Administrative Instruction and the user-generated volunteerism platform became reality. Kosovo Volunteers now provides volunteer seeking organizations with tools and resources to help enhance their community engagement programs and volunteers with resources to seek and secure great volunteering experiences.

The volunteerism initiative is now fully incorporated in the formal legislature of Kosovo – this way, forming a triple helix between, adolescents and youth, civil society, and public institutions. The platform is now the official tool for the validation of working hours of youth volunteers.

“I think the signing of the Administrative Instruction is going to be a huge help to young volunteers,” Alma says. “Our volunteerism is now documented, which will be a great help for college and job applications in the near future.”

“A good deed sometimes makes you a better person, so volunteerism is an important tool for self-actualization,” she says. “Now that we have a platform to find opportunities and that our working hours will be recognized, there’s no reason for anyone not to volunteer and help make Kosovo a better place.”

The strong collaboration between ADA and UNICEF Kosovo that began in 2012, has been instrumental in addressing the needs of Kosovar youth and adolescents. Together, we have equipped Kosovo youth and adolescents with the necessary tools to be involved in decision and policy making at the local level, and facilitated their professional readiness through volunteerism, entrepreneurship, and ICT skills of the 21st century.

 

* UPSHIFT is a UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo workshop which combines experiential learning, guidance, mentorship and funding to empower youth to become active social change makers.