Desire to make a difference

Enthusiasm rarely seems to be in short supply around this group – this year volunteers will rescue puppies, leave their homes to teach children in another country, clean up kilos of plastic, teach simple skills, erect houses and work in hospitals (among many, many other things) and they’ll do it all with no strings attached.

Angelina Cumba Fadhil Bakeer Markar Bhagya Ratnayake

2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV) and the movement has only gathered more momentum over the years. Now Fadhil Bakeer Markar, the National Coordinator for IYV+10 says they’re ready to take it to the next level. The ‘V’ force will bring volunteers from all over Sri Lanka together – providing a platform for them to network and coordinate their efforts. Soon they hope to have regional coordinating structures in place to further promote, facilitate and recognize the contribution of volunteers nationwide. Sitting down with Fadhil and Bhagya Ratnayake, an Operations and Communications Assistant at the U.N, we talked about the recently held ‘V’ Forum.

Representatives from several government departments, the private sector, civil society, youth organisations and academia were all present. The IYV+10 National Steering Committee has an impressive line up: Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Social Services, Maharaja Broadcasting Corporation Networks, National Youth Services Council, Social Policy Analysis and Research Center, Sarvodaya, Voluntary Service Overseas, United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Volunteers themselves are on it. Both Fadhil and Bhagya tell us they were very heartened to find so many diverse voices agreeing on the importance of volunteerism. In a taped message to the audience at the Galle Face Hotel that day, Mahela Jayawardena summed it up neatly: “It’s the values of volunteering that makes it so powerful. It’s not about money, it’s not about career, and it’s not about pleasure or power. It’s about the genuine desire to make a difference. It’s about doing good.”

Fadhil and Bhagya couldn’t agree more. They say that it’s hard to beat the pure satisfaction that volunteer service gives, and that as a bonus you find yourself being the better for it - volunteerism has taught both of them valuable lessons in confidence and strengthened their interpersonal skills. As we’re talking Angelina Cumba a UN volunteer from Mozambique walks in. The 30 year old tells us this is her first time in Asia. She’s settled right in however, and is finding her work here so meaningful that though she’s considering staying a few additional months to see it through – she’s searching for funding to support the Prasana orphanage in Negombo and says that her students from another project – an English class – are helping all they can. “I find myself learning a lot from these people...understanding Sri Lankan culture, understanding a part of the world I didn’t know about when I was in Africa,” she says.
Angelina is one of the many volunteers working with UNV around the island. Many of them have specific skills that make them suitable for their postings, says Fadhil but adds the ‘V’ Force team is open to all.

UNV will also support global events including a Global Summit on Volunteerism and MDGs in New York in March 2011, two UN General Assembly Sessions dedicated to IYV+10 in December 2011, and launch of the first State of the World Volunteerism Report in 2011 say the organizers of the event in Sri Lanka.
The camaraderie and enthusiasm that you can often find at such events is great to see and challenges the idea that we’re all getting cynical and materialistic. When Neshan Gunasekera, Project Director - Training for Trusteeship, spoke at the V- Forum event and he wanted to emphasise the need to make time for the things that really matter – “this is of paramount importance to our generation as we find it exceedingly challenging to find ‘sufficient time’ to do the most important things in life, like ‘time to care’, ‘time to share’ and ‘time to inspire’. Yet, you, as volunteers, have led from the outset that we do, indeed, as responsible human beings have time to care, time to share and time to inspire others to find the time to do so the same....” he said speaking of how volunteerism, trusteeship and inter-communal harmony were intimately linked.

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