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People helping people: 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers

Christina Papadopoulou has been working with the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) in Guatemala since 2008. She is a UN Volunteer who has chosen “to serve society and promote ideals such as social justice and equality.”

OHCHR staff and a UN Volunteer discuss with local communities in Guatemala © OHCHR GuatemalaPapadopoulou is one of the nearly 8,000 UN Volunteers mobilized every year by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. This year UNV and its stakeholders mark the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10).

“My work includes monitoring the human rights situation in the country, performing legal analysis on political and social or economic problems, and assessing the level of compliance of the State with human rights obligations and the consistency of national legislation and policies with international human rights standards” says Papadopoulou.

“As a human rights officer my work often implies a feeling of impotence when confronting human suffering or injustice. When identifying the violation, getting to know its causes, I realise that there is little you can do to reverse history and alleviate consequences. There are, however moments, occasions or circumstances that make you equally proud and profoundly satisfied for having achieved or contributed to a significant change for a group or person’s life.”

During 2010, 63 UN Volunteers worked in OHCHR, and more than 40 are currently working in human rights field offices in Bolivia, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Nepal, South Africa and Uganda.

“UN Volunteers are highly specialized professionals, highly motivated by the desire to make tangible contributions by reaching the vulnerable and marginalized. They develop their capacities to participate actively and constructively in the development of prosperous and harmonious societies,” said Flavia Pansieri, UNV Executive Coordinator.

Pansieri emphasised that volunteers play a critical role in advocating and providing the skills necessary to advance human rights.

UN volunteers are spread around the world in 132 countries, with 79 percent of them coming from developing countries. They also comprise one third of all international civilians working in UN peacekeeping operations.

UNV partners with governments and with the UN, including the UN Human Rights office, non-profit and private sector organizations, in order to promote peace and development. It helps countries to foster and develop volunteerism as a force for sustainable development. The organization is also committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by working at grass roots levels, and improving living conditions in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Ten years after the International Year of Volunteers, the United Nations called for this anniversary to be marked across the world. To celebrate IYV+10, governments, the UN system, civil society organizations, volunteer organizations, business, academic institutions and other partners join together to celebrate and build upon the growth and diversification of volunteerism and to honour everyday volunteers. 

The UN Human Rights office has also participated in the preparations for the International Year of Volunteers +10 from the start and has supported the resulting vision statement and global call for action.

UNV is expected to release a State of the World’s Volunteerism Report at the end of this year, to promote a better understanding of volunteerism and to recognize the contributions that volunteers make to development.

A global summit is being planned for September of this year to highlight the importance of volunteerism, from the community to the international level, and to take stock of volunteer effort towards achieving the MDGs. 

10 May 2011