Volunteerism: The Happiness Effect
When most people think about volunteering, they conceive an idea of a privileged individual helping a needy person. Although myopic, this is just one way of looking at it. Commonly, we volunteer in most of our societal interactions. To help others kindle happiness.
“Don’t run before you can walk,” was the first thing that Dimitri Lermytte, the program officer at United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Kenya said to the freshly-oriented participants at our first briefing. He explained that in life, one should not try to do something complicated before learning basic skills. This intrigued me enough to embrace the volunteering opportunity as a chance to learn more about community development; through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at the Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD) conference.
As a recent graduant from United States International University- Africa (USIU-A); with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism just a week before the conference, volunteering for UNV proved to be a golden window and a fortuitous experience for me to join the communications team. I had the pleasure of working with two ambitious women; UNDP’s Communications Executive Joyous Begisen, and fellow volunteer Kabale Duba.
Joyous was a delightful and hardworking supervisor whom I immensely enjoyed interacting with. It was under her direction that I got to practice decision-making skills. She also engaged my presentation skills and trusted Kabale and I to operate the stand. Having observed the other stands around the exhibition center, it was evident that our stand had to catch the eye of the conference attendees. Therefore, we decided to customise the decor and aesthetic to appeal and seize the attendees’ attention and curiosity.
At the conference, people from all walks of life were present to partake in the legendary historical event. I met a lot of people and language barriers were extant. However, I seized the opening to network as well as appreciate the different cultures represented at the conference. A memorable moment I hold dear was when the president of Senegal, HE Macky Sall approached our stand. Nervous and overwhelmed at this rare occasion, I welcomed him to the UNDP stand.
“Bonjour! Bienvenue au UNDP. Vousdriez-vous lire quelques-unes de nos publications ?” I said. “Oui, merci,” he smiled back.
Joyous then handed him a bag to carry the UNDP pamphlets. How often does this ever happen?
“Does UNDP partner with the private sector?”, “How can we partner with UNDP?”, “What kind of projects have UNDP done in Africa?…”
These were some of the frequently asked questions by the majority of the visitors who came by our stand. It was rather surprising that as volunteers, we had been trusted with the responsibility of acquainting the public to the works of UNDP. We took the task to deliver our responses with delicate precision. It was fulfilling knowing that we had assisted curious attendees to envision their future goals with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This gave me a deep sense of purpose.
I learned that UNDP is a highly reputable organization globally. A few individuals assumed UNDP’s objectives in an imprecise light. My hope was to shift such perceptions with unerring information. There was an old man from DRC Congo who strongly believed that the UN thrives in disaster and that it never solves any problems. The statement was rather appalling but I communicated to him that not all world problems can be solved in a day. The fact that UNDP works with developing communities, their projects are significant, impactful and manifest through sustainability.
Prior to this assignment, the SDGs were indefinite to many of us. This made me resonate more with the people who thought they were a ridiculously ambitious public relations feat. Getting the chance to explain to people the potential and influence of the works of the UN regarding the expansion of the millennial development goals (MDGs) to the recently updated and more specific SDGs was satisfying.
“Like caterpillars to butterflies, I likened the eight MDGs as the larvae stage of which the actualisation of the 17 SDGs engender a butterfly of an inclusive prosperous world. A world where every global citizen can enjoy a good standard of life.”- K. M. Kouyaté
Volunteering gave me the opportunity to practice important life skills used in the workplace. They include: teamwork, effective communication, problem-solving, project-planning, and organizational skills. Volunteering for UNV dared me to stretch my wings at the workplace. Just because most volunteer work goes unpaid (depending on the assignment), it does not mean the skills you learn are impractical. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training.
Whilst venturing into the communications sphere, my hope is to continue honing my skills in marketing, public speaking and precision of language with the skills acquired at TICAD. When I was interviewed for the UNV documentary, my word went to young people to never cease showing acts of kindness. One should bring their heart and their sense of humor to their volunteer service, along with their enthusiastic spirit, which is a priceless gift. What you’ll get back will be immeasurable!
Dedicating my time as a volunteer helped me make new friends. It expanded my network, as well as refined my social skills. Volunteering strengthened my ties to the community and gave me great exposure to people with common interests. Doing good for others and the community develops a sense of happiness and accomplishment.
Participating in various activities took my mind off post-graduate worries and kept me mentally stimulated. Being a part of UNV added more zest into my life. It gave me a sense of pride, identity and belonging. With greater self-confidence, I have a positive outlook on life and future work endeavors that bring me insatiable joy!