By Prisca Adaeze Nenger
Ugandan students and youths have been urged to embrace volunteerism within their communities as a way of becoming better exposed and also for gaining marketable skills as future leaders.
This call was made by the Chief Guest of the day, Minister of State for Relief and Disaster Preparedness Office of the Prime Minister; Honourable Ecweru Musa Francis, and the Head of US Mission in Uganda; Ambassador Deborah Malac as well as other special guests, during the annual celebration of the International Volunteer Day (IVD) 2019 that was held at Kampala International University (KIU), on Thursday 5th December 2019, under the theme 'Volunteer for an inclusive future'.
The event, which is globally inclined had notable personalities within and outside the country gracing the occasion; amongst whom were the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative; Ms. Elsie Attafuah, Ambassadors and Head of Missions in Uganda from the United States, and Japan respectively, together with The International Volunteer Organizations working in Uganda (TIVOU), among others.
In his remarks, the Vice-chancellor KIU; Dr. Mouhamad Mpezamihigo took the pleasure to gladly welcome all the special guests and visitors to the university, while appreciating TIVOU, the UNDP, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions, for finding KIU worthy to host such a magnanimous event amongst over 50 universities and/or institutions in Uganda this year. He, therefore, pledged the university’s continuous and unalloyed support to host voluntary organizations and activities anytime the need arises in any of her two campuses in Uganda. Announcing that KIU as an institution will be looking at opportunities to mainstream components of volunteerism in her academic curricula for both undergraduate and graduate students going forward to enable graduates to not only be theoretically equipped but also to be practically equipped for real life after the university.
“I’d like to suggest therefore that we can work together as an institution and try to mainstream components of volunteerism within our curriculum so that as we train our students and get them to graduate, they are willing and able to understand and appreciate, including where possible; having placement, organizing placements, that will enable the team to grow and grow”, the Vice-chancellor proposed.
The UNDP resident representative Ms. Elsie Attafuah while rightly observing that the world indeed has descended at KIU in commemoration of the IVD, applauded the university management for accepting to host the event in her premises, as she affirmed that the UNDP will be glad to partner with KIU in working out a reformed curriculum that will enshrine volunteerism therein.
In her address, Ms. Attafuah noted that IVD as mandated by the UN General Assembly, is held annually every 5th of December; seeing it as a great opportunity for volunteers to celebrate their efforts and promote their industry in the society.
“IVD is viewed as a unique chance of volunteers and volunteer development organizations to celebrate their efforts, share their values and promote their work in communities, governments, academia, private sectors and the country” the UNDP resident representative professed.
The UNDP resident representative went further to note that the IVD not only celebrate volunteerism in all its facets, but it is a time to pay special tribute to volunteers for their contributions in making a difference globally. This is because there are an estimated one billion volunteers that carry out a range of roles in their various communities and societies for the greater good of the people. Volunteerism, therefore, adds significant value to the economies of societies, as about 2.4 per cent of the global GDPs alone, come from volunteering.
“In Uganda; the Pearl of Africa, we collectively have over half a million active volunteers making economic and social contributions to the development process through participation in community development initiatives, environmental protection, refugee response, education and livelihood, amongst others. Also by engaging people from the grassroots in decision-making processes, volunteers have created spaces for participation that have enhanced social cohesion and good governance” Ms. Attafuah added.
Speaking on the IVD 2019 theme – 'Volunteer for an inclusive future', the UNDP resident representative while reading the speech of the UN Secretary-General; António Guterres for the day, cited that “volunteerism is essential to ensure that global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are owned by all people, implemented by all people and for all people”.
Minister urges varsity students to embrace volunteerism for better exposure
The Minister of State for Relief and Disaster Preparedness Office of the Prime Minister; Hon. Ecweru Musa Francis, who appreciated all the Ambassadors and Heads of Missions present in Uganda for their immense support to the country whenever they are called upon for assistance; with regards to volunteering where the need arises, also welcomed the UNDP resident representative to Uganda. After which he thanked KIU management for building an intellectual hub of repute in the country. He, thus, beckoned on fellow Ministers to come and see firsthand the good things happening in Kampala International University (KIU).
Speaking on the satisfaction derived from volunteerism, the Minister shared a story on his journey into community volunteering as he liberated his people in the Teso region of Eastern Uganda during the Lord Resistance Armies (LRAs) attack back in June 2003; a feat, which has also earned him his current position as the Minister for Relief, Disaster Management and Refugees today. Stating that volunteerism; has to do with putting one’s life on the line for the survival of others.
“Don’t look for credit when you are volunteering, look for satisfaction. Ours is to wipe out the tears of those in distress, irrespective of their colour or race”, Hon. Ecweru advised.
On stereotypes, the Minister who noted that from this gathering, he could only see a global village where people of different race and colour came together for the common good of man, acknowledged that the secret about volunteering is that it demystifies the perceptions that people have about communities, especially for foreign volunteers in Uganda and Africa at large; where the continent has been misrepresented by the media.
From time past, Uganda has been a safe haven for refugees, as the country has opened its borders to people in distress from surrounding countries that come to Uganda for survival, thereby leading to the continuous need for volunteers in the country. In this regard, Hon. Ecweru categorically stated that Uganda as a country is very rich in compassion and will continue to spread its gospel to the world.
“In terms of compassion, I can tell you that Uganda has some lessons to teach the world. We may be poor in dollars, but we are rich in compassion; if you want to check out our wealth, check our heart.” The Minister proclaimed.
As volunteerism brings about exposure and encourages nationalism, the Minister urged the Vice-chancellor KIU, to encourage university students and youths to be part of a voluntary organization, aside from schooling, so as to get the required exposure that might not be taught in the classroom or lecture theatre.
The Minister, therefore, used the same platform to advise fellow leaders in the country to be empathetic with their citizens and/or followers, by serving them passionately and help solve their problems alongside.
What other guests say about volunteerism?
On his own, the Ambassador of Japan to Uganda; His Excellency Kameda Kazuaki while speaking, said that the IVD is a very useful and an exemplary event where volunteers share their experiences amongst themselves and also create awareness to the public, being that international volunteers also contribute to the local communities in their various capacities. Stating that over the years, Japan as a country strongly promotes volunteerism, as over 50,000 volunteers have participated in JICA. As such, all the JICA volunteers are seen as ambassadors representing Japan in their local communities of assignments. By so doing, the Japanese Ambassador, therefore, hopes that the Japan Embassy in Uganda will continue to participate in the annual IVD programme in the country.
The Head of US Missions in Uganda; Ambassador Deborah Malac on her part, encouraged volunteers not to relent in their efforts and services to humanity, as the impact they give in the society is unquantifiable, and volunteerism is a call to serve. Noting that the United States Mission in Uganda have continually marked the International Volunteer Day, by creating a day off for staff members to volunteer in needy areas in various local communities, as a way of giving back to the society, where she identified ‘tree planting’ as one of the examples among others, all in a bid to conserve the environment.
More so, Ambassador Malac, also appreciated the Peace Corps Country Director in Uganda; Mr. James T. Ham, for joining hands with other volunteer organizations to put up such a memorable event, and for volunteering in Uganda too. She, therefore, challenged KIU students to get involved in volunteering while still at school and afterwards while seeking for a paid job, as they will easily gain marketable skill while volunteering.
Defining Moments as Volunteer
During the commemoration, a number of volunteers were called up from TIVOU (Peace Corps Uganda [PC], KOICA, JICA, UNV, Red Cross [URCS], Building Tomorrow and VSO), for a panel discussion as moderated by Mr. Ken Odur Gabelle, to narrate their stories and share their experiences as volunteers in Uganda. Here, they all spoke of passion to serve and interests as what propelled them to venture in volunteerism and how they have been able to learn and in turn impact lives individually and collectively in their various communities of assignments in one way or another.
On their part, David Olin; a VSO implementing partner from Omafarms Gulu District, and Peter Ogik; from the Source of the Nile Union of Persons with Albinism (SNUPA), gave resounding testimonials on how volunteering has empowered them and also boosted their individual and collective capacities locally and internationally, even when all hopes seem to have been lost.
A major highlight of the event was when the UNDP resident representative; Ms. Elsie Attafuah in the same spirit of volunteerism and giving back to the society, donated a box of the 'Pearl of Africa Hats' and some sunglasses to SNUPA in a bid to support the work they do in Albinism.
Beneficiaries entertain guests
During the event, dance crews from a primary school in Kapchorwa, eastern Uganda and Kitala Church of Uganda Primary School, Entebbe, central Uganda (both powered by JICA), as well as SNUPA, all featured in Japanese Gymnastics and local dances respectively.
The International Volunteer Day, which is also marked and supported by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, is celebrated by various non-governmental organizations NGO’s), civil society organizations (CSO’s), and the private sector, among others. That is why KIU was pleased to be part of this commemoration in 2019.
In a closing remark, the Country Director of Peace Corps in Uganda; Mr. James T. Ham, thanked KIU for providing her premises as a venue for the renowned event, noted that an amazing thing has happened; because of the seeds being planted for an inclusive future through promoting volunteerism in Uganda. The ceremony was, therefore, brought to a close and the exhibition, formally opened.
Read also - How IVD came about ...