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Volunteering gives Yemen the crucial push
12 December 2006
by Kawkab al-Thaibani

Amran, Yemen: Each year, thousands of volunteers work on projects across Yemen, giving their time and energy to a variety of projects. And last week, these volunteers were recognized for their selfless contributions, on International Volunteer Day, December 5.

The celebration of volunteers was initiated and funded by the United Nations Volunteers Program in Yemen, supported by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, and organized in partnership with volunteering organizations such as Charitable Society For Social Affairs, the University of Science and Technology, United Nations Development Program, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Program and the Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. 

“The concept of volunteering is an integral part of the Arab world and Islam,” said Flavia Pansieri, the UN resident coordinator. "This is why volunteering organizations in Yemen are numerous and committed.” 

She thanked the volunteers in a speech addressed to all the volunteers of the world. “You are a real inspiration to all of us, the people who can make a difference.” Volunteering gives a crucial boost to Yemen in its quest to achieve its Millennium goals, she said.  One of the most exciting developments in the past year is that there were nearly equal numbers of male and female volunteers, she added.  Volunteers for the UN are working on a wide variety of problems, such as poverty, through a passel of different programs.

“Volunteers also played an important role during the election programs,” she said.  About half of the volunteers in Yemen are Yemeni, and many work in harsh and remote areas, under difficult circumstances. The celebration was attended by representatives from all of the participating organizations. They included Tareq Abulohoom, the chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Science and Technology; Abdul Majeed Farhan, the executive director of CSSW; and Flavia Panasieri, and Hisahm Sahraf, representing the Ministry of Planning and International Corporation.

Abdul-Majeed Farhan, the executive director of CSSW, said that their organization has participated in many events. “There are more than 12,000 volunteers, both women and men and they are all very qualified,” he said.  Farhan noted that many volunteers in the organizations are foreigners, such as Mahmoud Hashmat of Jordan and Ruba Ghanim from Syria.  Dr. Isam Eldeen al-Hussein, a 46-year-old Sudani national and the head of foreign relations, said that the charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) is the only organization in Yemen boasting membership in the Department of Public Information of the United Nations.

“The organization is promoting UN events in the country, this is our main responsibility today,” he said. “This day is an opportunity to honor the volunteers and shed lights on their constant work.” Hisahm Sahraf, of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, said that the volunteers in the governmental sector worked on several areas, including poverty eradication.  At the celebration, some pioneers of volunteering, the late Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, and the late Hayel Saeed Anam, were honored.  “I thank Dr.Tareq Abulohoom, because he remembered my father for his charitable work,” said Yahia, the son of the late Mohammed Abdullah Saleh.

Tareq Anam, receiving an award on behalf of his pioneer volunteering grandfather, Hayel Saeed Anam.
Tareq Hayel Saeed Anam, 41, the head manager of United Insurance and Hayel Saeed’s grandson, presented an award saying, “I feel good, because my grandfather left us a legacy that could serve the country as well as humanity.” Ali Saleh Abdullah, the deputy Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, was honored and praised by Tareq Abulohoom as “the father of the social societies.” Many women were honored as well, including Amat al-Aleem al-Soswa. But since she could not attend, Panasieri accepted the award on her behalf.

Irene Omondi, a Kenyan field officer for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, said that to understand volunteering, a person must understand that she will need to devote all of his or her skills, talents and time. Omondi volunteered because her religious beliefs prompted her. “In Kenya, I was helping the kids in the street.” Here, Omondi is helping refugees. Omondi said that a volunteer should look at the enterprise from his heart, because it is all about giving.  A discussion session involving volunteers from different organization took place as part of the celebration.

Lukas Policar, a Czech volunteer with the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, said that the Czech word Debrovoluik, which means volunteer, also conveys the meaning of good will in his language.  Volunteering is a way to achieve two goals at once, as it is a way to help people and gain new skills at the same time, he said. Volunteers can gain skills that will make them more marketable and help them in later careers.  “The volunteer has good will,” he said. But it is not good will alone that makes a volunteer.

Flavia Pansieri, the UN resident coordinator, receiving the award on behalf of the very active Amat al-Aleem al-Sos
“Good will needs to be completed by a lot of personal engagement.” Mohammed Almasyabi, 40, chief of the Yemeni Development Foundation, criticized scholars and orators for not attending the event. “The Yemeni community is influenced by religion first and foremost, so to change things, the scholars have a vital role to play.”  Almasyabi narrated the hard time he had volunteering in Britain, because of the cultural differences. “Some Yemeni youths melted into the community, and had even started to lose their language,” he said.

“But then the president ordered the opening of a number of religious schools in that community,” he said. “Our volunteer work was not of an urgent nature, but we did try to raise awareness and educate more people.” Almasyabi believes that volunteering has been neglected in Yemen. “In Britain everyone dedicates at least four hours a week to volunteering, and many are very qualified professionals.”  Mohammed al-Saadi, a volunteer, described the hardships he faced during his volunteering in al-Mahwit governorate.

He was there during the outbreak of onchocerciasis, an endemic disease in hot and humid areas. “For refusing to accept a bribe, I was kept in prison until the local population protested and got me out of prison,” he said.  He said that this program never got the attention it deserved, except from the Charitable Society. Even transportation constituted a major hurdled for the coordinators.  Rashidah al-Hamdani, the head of the National Women’s Committee, also talked about her experience. “I have worked in many areas involving women, such as education and imprisonment,” she said. Danae Issa of France, the communications and institutional building officer in UNDP, believes that volunteering should be a matter of principle in life.

Her mother, Alexandra Issa, 52, a Greek surgeon, was proud of her daughter and was also glad that to see the number of women volunteers was increasing. “The most important thing is that young Yemeni women participate more, and I encourage this not only for the Yemeni community, but for the entire Islamic world.”

Kawtar Zerwali, the UNV programme officer, said that in 1992, there was a conference held to discuss volunteering, and even back then, Yemen was the country boasting the largest number of volunteers.  Zerwali said that this day was important because it displayed the significant steps made towards social cohesion and economic development in Yemen.