In the spotlight: the power of volunteerism

It takes a special kind of person to step forward and freely offer time, resources and skills to meet any given situation of need.

In a different age, before the isolation and individualism brought on by more affluence, disintegration of families and increasing online social interaction, acting for the common good and a general duty to benefit the community was much more the norm.

Nonetheless, unsung heroes who step forward for no other reward than a desire for service are still doing their good work, and of course, the fruits of their efforts are everywhere we care to look.

Take the teams who are now working to clean up tonnes of oil leaking from a damaged cargo ship at Christmas Island.

The Panamanian-flagged MV Tycoon broke its moorings at Flying Fish Cove in heavy seas this past Sunday before breaking in two, causing an oil and phosphate fertiliser spill whose impact on the surrounding ecosystem could take years to assess and rejuvenate.

Given the 60-metre stretch of beach which is now a mess of sand and animals covered in oil, volunteers will be expected to help with the clean-up for at least the next week or so.

The same spirit of responding to a call for service resounds across the world both at the grassroots and highest public levels, with the United Nations Volunteer programme (UNV) being no exception.

The UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilising an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world.

The programme, with Field Units in 86 countries, is represented worldwide through the offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reports to the UNDP Executive Board.

Naturally, any UNV volunteer deployed to Cyprus would be operating in the same landscape in which the Peace it Together network – with its own valiant numbers of interns and volunteers – is active.

Peace Exchange chatted with Michieru Sakai, currently working with UNDP-ACT, to get a firsthand glimpse of the life of a UNV volunteer:

***

Peace Exchange: Please introduce yourself

Michieru Sakai:  I am from Yokohama-city, Japan, 34 years old.

I am a former trainee of the Programme for Human Resource Development in Asia for Peacebuilding commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, implemented by the Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center (HPC).

My interest is taking photographs. I acknowledged it when I bought a camera lens, which was actually more expensive than the camera itself!

PE: What drew you to volunteering with the UNV?

MS: I was accepted into the above mentioned Human Resource Development programme in 2009 – it is a very unique programme.

The Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center (HPC), commissioned by MOFA, coordinates the entire program in cooperation with the UNV.

The course consisted of approximately six weeks of the practical training in Japan and 12 months of the Overseas Attachment as UNV volunteers. This is how I was deployed to Cyprus as a UNV.

I came to Cyprus in February 2010 for a year. Then I was fortunate that my contract was extended till September 2012, after having completed the Overseas Attachment.

PE: What is the nature of your volunteer work?

MS: Under the direct supervision of the UNDP-ACT Peace & Development Advisor, there are three main roles I have.

The first is to support and ensure implementation of strategic vision of overall programme at UNDP-ACT.

As the second main role, for Support to the UN Good Offices and the Confidence Building Measures project, I assist the Peace & Development Advisor to provide diverse technical and financial support to mechanisms and confidence building measures that feed into the ongoing peace process and wider reconciliation process.

The third role is to provide support for linking the official peace talk process by the Good Offices and peacebuilding work of partner organizations.

Besides this, I promote volunteerism as a UNV. For this purpose, I submitted the short documentary to the International Film Festival hosted by UNV.

PE: What would you say have been some of the rewards to volunteer work in Cyprus?

MS: Firstly: encountering inspiring people: It is a reward for me to meet people with passion for peacebuilding. They are voluntarily finding extra time from a busy schedule, and using their skills and knowledge for the future of the island. Even if they have different occupational titles, I know we all share the spirit of volunteerism.

Their attitudes inspire me a lot, and I am grateful for the fact that I have met them through my UNV work in Cyprus.

Secondly: working closely with different UN entities. I appreciate that I can have the opportunity to work jointly with UN Good Offices and UNFICYP. I understand that it is rather uncommon for a UNV in other countries to have such an experience.

Thirdly: exploring beautiful cultures and sceneries: I am grateful that I can explore this beautiful island every weekend. I am planning to upload more photos from Cyprus to my blog, www.michie.ru.

PE: Could you mention any challenges you’ve encountered while in Cyprus?

MS: Since I am the only UNV in Cyprus, I have experienced some administrative difficulties at first. However, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by experienced colleagues who can find the way out and always helped me solve the issues.

PE: And finally, how do you see the UNDP-ACT’s peace-building work developing in Cyprus?

MS: Well, I came to Cyprus in 2010. Given that the UNDP-ACT started in 2005, my time here has been very limited. However, I have understood the highly developed capacity of partner organisations from their activities, their reports and their meetings with constructive discussions. I think the fact that there are plenty of things in peacebuilding I can learn from partner organisations implies the UNDP’s efforts have been successful.

The other day, I saw a dove with an olive branch flying to mark the future of the Peace it Together network. Cyprus is an island filled with olive trees, and an accumulated knowledge about peacebuilding.

The dove of the Peace it Together emblem captures the essence of this and exports it to the wider region and beyond.

***

The Peace Exchange thanks Michi for those thoughts!

Meanwhile, PE will be bringing you more chats with the behind-the-scenes heroes, the interns and volunteers who grease the wheels and keep everything humming in the Peace it Together network in future posts, so please stay tuned.

Until soon then… see you in the next post!

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