Amid a daily dose of news stories about war, conflicts and other man-made disasters, it is often a challenge not to lose heart when we see the suffering inflicted on so many millions of people throughout the world. But far away from the spotlight, there are millions of generous individuals who, around the clock and around the world, roll up their sleeves and volunteer to help in any way they can.
Working alone or as part of an organized movement, they care for the old, the sick and the handicapped. They lend a hand to people living with HIV/AIDS and help remove the stigma unjustly attached to them. They teach children to read and young adults the vocational skills they need to make a living. They build houses, clean rivers, dig wells and improve living conditions in many other ways as well. They help to protect human rights, build democracy, resolve conflict and maintain peace. They rush relief supplies to people struck by calamity and work with marginalized groups to ensure that their needs are heard and met.
Volunteers do not ask, “why volunteer?”, but rather “when?”, “where?” and “how?” These dedicated and courageous individuals are important partners in the quest for a better, fairer and safer world.
Information and communication technologies make volunteering simpler than ever. Increasingly, volunteers go online to share their skills with those in need. They build Web sites and databases, provide legal support, create curricula for schools and take on a vast range of other tasks that can be carried out from a home computer with access to the Internet. And through the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS), a qualified corps of ICT volunteers works on-site in developing countries to help people learn how to use the resources of the Internet and of information technology for human development.
On this International Volunteer Day, let us recognize the contribution that volunteers make to societies all over the world. Let us also pay tribute to one of their greatest champions, the late Sharon Capeling-Alakija, the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) who passed away last month. And let us remember that each contribution -–no matter how small –- can help make a difference.