By Kim Nienau and Jan Snoeks
Volunteerism is all about efforts towards improving the life of others and leaving a place in a better condition than it was found. More than one billion people volunteer each year around the world, at home or abroad, including with the United Nations.
Each year, thousands of professionals are deployed to UN peacekeeping missions and serve in the UN’s many development programmes as volunteers. These UN Volunteers have a clear goal: to contribute their time and professional expertise towards sustaining a peaceful world in which no one is left behind.
Within UN Peacekeeping, combining the powers of peacekeepers and volunteers reinforces efforts to foster peace. This strong partnership started in 1992 and has grown to become an inherent component of civilian personnel within most peacekeeping missions since then. With approximately 2,000 UN Volunteers deployed on average each year, these dedicated professionals have been at the forefront of UN of peace operations for nearly three decades.
UN Volunteers complement, do not supplant, UN staff. National and international volunteers regularly take on roles that are different in nature to those of staff members such as capacity development and community engagement therefore expanding a mission’s ability to support peace processes at the community-level.
UN Volunteers have also helped to implement mandates of over 50 peace operations around the world. Together, these mandates range from supporting electoral processes to responding to the Ebola crisis, from strengthening institutions to promoting good governance, from increasing civil participation to analyzing the political environment and monitoring human rights.
For example, in Liberia, UN Volunteers have served passionately and courageously for 15 years in the mission of UNMIL (2003–2018), often in challenging, harsh and remote locations. Arriving first in a post-conflict environment, they were instrumental in assisting with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of over 100,000 combatants, supported historic elections that led to the first female African presidency, helped deliver medical assistance during the devastating Ebola outbreak, and at every turn making enormous contributions to the United Nations and the people of Liberia.
UN Volunteers are currently serving across nine UN peacekeeping missions in: Abyei (UNISFA), Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Darfur (UNAMID), Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Haiti (MINUJUSTUH), Kosovo (UNMIK), Mali (MINUSMA), South Sudan (UNMISS), and Western Sahara (MINURSO). UN Volunteers are also currently serving in five special political missions in: Afghanistan (UNAMA), Colombia, Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), Libya (UNSMIL), and Somalia (UNSOM).
In all these diverse environments and mandates, the added value of deployment of UN Volunteers in UN peacekeeping missions is clear: UN Volunteers are a powerful interface between the mission and the communities it serves. They can be seen as the change agents who greatly facilitate the building of bridges between various groups by promoting dialogue, reconciliation, peacebuilding, and civic responsibility. The underlying foundation stone of their service is voluntary engagement, solidarity, and serving the common good.
It is the intrinsic value of volunteering which makes it so powerful. Like all volunteers, UN Volunteers are not motivated by monetary reward but rather by the opportunity to contribute to the local and global community. Those contributions are priceless. They inspire. They deliver results. They are important steps towards reaching our global objective of sustainable peace.
UN Volunteers at the service of peace are truly inspiration in action.
For more information on how to apply to become a UN Volunteer, please visit the UNV website.
The authors are from the New York Office of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.