Volunteerism: a beacon of hope in troubling times?

Volunteerism: a beacon of hope in troubling times?
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People who lose sleep over the future of our planet, the lives of more than 60 million refugees and the fate of future generations - these are the people who have the power to change the world. These are true Global Citizens. And I admire and respect them greatly.

This year has been hard for humanity as trust in our world, our leaders, our future and our values has been shaken by a growing sense of divisiveness. Whether fuelled by confusion, or fear, or misrepresentation of fact, it is clear that we as a global community must come together in difficult times, not fall apart. We must re-build and re-establish trust in our communities - and in each other.

The essential role of volunteering has never been greater. Whether supporting communities through natural disasters, working in health clinics or by coaching local community businesses, trust is at the core of all volunteering efforts. In indirect ways, volunteers help to build relationships and improve working conditions of some of the most marginalised people in our world. Directly, volunteers are active in peacekeeping missions and social cohesion projects, working to heal wounds and bridge gaps to strengthen communities.

We, at the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme currently work with 36 partners in 122 countries and have almost 7,000 volunteers working both in their own countries and others, and a further 12,000 working remotely as online volunteers. We have close to 20,000 Global Citizens at work. These individuals, all contributing their time, expertise and effort are living proof of the trust we must seek to find in each other. Volunteers are the very best amongst us and their actions should - and must - inspire us all to play a part in our global community.

Take Chizuru Iwata, for example, a UN Volunteer from Japan who volunteered with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the State of Palestine. Working with Palestinian adolescents in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Chizuru was part of the team helping these young people to make a positive transition from childhood to adulthood, enhancing social cohesion and focusing on peace-building education. In difficult circumstances, she demonstrated the importance of working collaboratively towards a shared goal.

Or, the team of volunteers working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Colombia to implement the "Volunteers for Peace" project. The project educates and empowers young volunteers and activists by teaching them about the ongoing peace process in Colombia, promoting peace education and reintegration at a time in the country's history that is so integral to its future.

These are just two examples of the great work volunteers do each and every day, based on their commitment to the values of peace, cooperation and trust. Monday marks International Volunteer Day. A day that, for most of us, is probably much like any other day. But, let's make this one different. Let's pause, take stock and thank those people who are standing forward and stepping up to make our world a better, more peaceful place. To support our campaign to mark International Volunteer Day, check out our Facebook or Twitter pages - or search for the hashtag #GlobalApplause.

When trust feels scarce and when hope is waning, we'd all do well to look to our volunteers as beacons of true global citizenship. We should celebrate volunteers, yes, but we should also strive to emulate their example, to get involved, to show up and step forward. To play our respective roles in a global community that needs our efforts now more than ever.

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