Volunteers, United

Two United Nations Volunteers with UNICEF reflect on Volunteerism

Faris Amer and Karam Al Shalabi
05 December 2020

The International Volunteer Day is marked on the 5th of December each year, while everyone is anticipating and planning ahead for a new year. The end of the year is also a time for reflection and the renewal of hope. This December, so many people around the world are eagerly waiting for the new year, hoping to put much of the pain and fatigue brought by the COVID-19 pandemic behind. Indeed, 2020 witnessed many livelihoods disrupted and others destroyed by the pandemic. 

COVID-19 challenged our resilience, it chased us into our homes and away from each other. Yet hope is embedded in us; we look for life in every corner and hang on to it dearly, and we proved that we can stay united even apart. Volunteering was one of those actions that held us tighter and closer together, because volunteering breaks barriers and helps build empathy and cohesion among people from different cultures around the world.

“It was very exciting to work with youth from the MENA region and help amplify their voices and capacities to tackle issues they face in their communities,” says Karam Al Shalabi, a United Nations Volunteer who joined UNICEF in the Middle East and north Africa more than a year ago. According to the MENA Generation 2030 report published by UNICEF in 2019, children and young people (0-24 year olds) in the region account for nearly half of the region’s population. Young people have a potential to become agents of change, and volunteerism gives them a powerful space to put their energies to work and create change. 

Volunteer action also provides a space for volunteers’ voices. These voices should be heard and contribute to the development and shape of our MENA region. Making this happen is the responsibility of both the volunteers and the local communities. As Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa and a former volunteer himself with the Lebanese Red Cross, says: “Volunteers need to be actively involved in setting the vision and priorities in their localities, their countries, the UN, and beyond.”

In a world plagued with challenges and threats, the values of selflessness, solidarity and helping others, inherent in volunteerism, should be our compass and guiding light. Volunteers everywhere need to join forces, support one another and spread volunnteerism’s values wherever they volunteer. 

“Being a volunteer with UNICEF’s Communications team, and supporting advocacy through social media on issues like children suffering due to conflict and poverty or, indirectly, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other issues that impact young people’s lives in the region, has been rewarding and empowering,” says Faris Amer, a  United Nations Volunteer who joined UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa more than a year ago.

Indeed, volunteerism is underrated. Governments, influencers and civil society organizations should be advocating more seriously for volunteering. Kids in schools should be taught how to become lifelong volunteers, for volunteerism and its values are now more important than ever.  We thank the United Nations volunteers for their empowering mandate.