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Latter-day Saints Charities volunteer nurse Jan Johnson
Latter-day Saints Charities volunteer nurse Jan Johnson, (centre) listens as a Cambodian translator speaks with a patient after cataract surgery aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy in Sihanoukville in 2012. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Volunteering for a future

At this moment, when thousands of volunteers are helping in the Philippines to face the dreadful impact of Typhoon Haiyan, the world realises that the power of volunteerism goes beyond simple acts of kindness: it often makes a difference between life and death.

Every year on December 5, the International Volunteer Day, the world celebrates one of the most basic expressions of solidarity and social cohesion: volunteerism.

Often arising out of long-established traditions of sharing and reciprocal exchanges, volunteerism is a universal phenomenon that transcends boundaries, religions and cultural divides.

Facing challenges of global economic downturn, youth around the world turn to volunteerism to gain much needed skills and experience.

“Only graduating from university is not enough,” says Pal Sophol, Youth Star volunteer working in a small community in Kampong Thom.

“After I graduated, I went for some interviews, but I didn’t have any experience to demonstrate to potential employers. Now, when I am working as a community volunteer, I am applying the knowledge from the university into the real world and helping others at the same time,” said Sophol.

One of the main objectives of the joint field visit of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program and Youth Star Cambodia last week was to see the impact of volunteerism not only for the communities but also for the individual volunteers.

While volunteers deployed far from their family often face challenges in their work and new environment, their message is clear: being a volunteer changed their life and allowed them to help people, develop their skills and become better persons.

Today, more than 500 Cambodian and international volunteers will convene at the National Institute of Education, near Independence Monument, for a full day event starting at 8am to call attention to the development impact they make, under the motto “Be a role model, be a Volunteer!” in line with the global theme this year: “Young. Global. Active.”

The UNV program and its partners are highlighting the contributions that youth volunteers are making to build the future we want. There are more than 1.2 billion youth in the world today, the largest group of young people in history with incredible power.

Cambodia’s young people, who comprise 70 per cent of the country’s total population, have enormous potential to make a difference in contributing to the development of this country.

Volunteering is one way to harness that potential – and also build their skills and social responsibility.

The Year 2011 was an important milestone for volunteerism worldwide with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

In Cambodia, the National Committee for Promoting Volunteerism was established, gathering governmental and non-governmental partners as well as United Nations Agencies.

Volunteerism was integrated into the Cambodian National Youth Policy, demonstrating the commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia to promote volunteerism. Since then, these key actors join forces every year to carry the momentum forward.

On December 5, today, the third National Forum on Volunteerism brings together volunteers from the provinces as well as from Phnom Penh, celebrates the importance of voluntary action and the difference it makes to the development of Cambodia.

During the National Forum, volunteers will be able to engage in discussions with the private sector and representatives of the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme.

Recognising the contribution of volunteers is important. Thousands of people in Cambodia give their time and share their skills, driven by a desire to contribute to the well-being of this country and its people.
They have no expectation of material reward, and their efforts promote civic values and social cohesion.

During the International Volunteers Day we celebrate and recognise the volunteers and demonstrate that volunteerism is one of the best ways to harness the energy and creativity of youth towards peace, the eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion.

Let us honour the power of volunteerism to build the future we want and express gratitude to the thousands of volunteers around us.

Claire Van der Vaeren is the United Nations Resident Coordinator.

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