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The voice of youth: International Day of Youth
11 August 2011

In Thateng town, Sekong Province, 800 km south of the capital of Lao PDR, 19-year-old Nouan Anong fits her headphones for the morning news. Nouan is a volunteer radio anchor with the Thatheng Ethnic Community Radio for Development station. “This is a unique opportunity to volunteer and represent my Ta-oi ethnic group,” says Nouan. “I can communicate in my own language so the community understands what is happening around them.” Through volunteering, Nouan has become the voice of her peers. (Philippe Pernet / UNV)In Thateng town, Sekong Province, 800 km south of the capital of Lao PDR, 19-year-old Nouan Anong fits her headphones for the morning news. Nouan is a volunteer radio anchor with the Thatheng Ethnic Community Radio for Development station. “This is a unique opportunity to volunteer and represent my Ta-oi ethnic group,” says Nouan. “I can communicate in my own language so the community understands what is happening around them.” Through volunteering, Nouan has become the voice of her peers. (Philippe Pernet / UNV)
Bonn, Germany: This year marks both the International Year of Youth and the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10).It’s a unique opportunity to recognize how young people can take a stand and help change the world for the better.

There are perhaps 1.8 billion adolescents and youth in the world today, accounting for nearly one-third of the world’s population. Such a massive group, so full of idealism and energy, is key to meeting the world’s challenges; though all too often marginalized or unemployed young people are seen as a source of social problems rather than the solution.

Youth around the world want their voices to be heard, and they can find their voices through volunteering. And the impact of volunteering on their worldview develops individuals with a stronger sense of civic engagement, and readies them to take on the challenges of the future.

Youth is a subject close to our own hearts. In 1976, the UN expanded the mandate of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme to advance the contribution of youth towards economic and social progress. Since then, UNV has created opportunities for youth across the board. Our Annual Report for 2010 is in fact dedicated to the subject of ‘Inspiring Youth’.

And about 80 per cent of online volunteers engaged via the UNV Online Volunteering service are aged between 18 and 35. Online volunteering empowers them to engage in development activities, work in international teams, and use and enhance their expertise in support of a cause.

As volunteers, young adults become agents of change within their communities. They can help eradicate poverty, contain the spread of disease, combat climate change, contribute to sustainable societies and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). When the passion of youth is wisely managed, they can also take the lead in reconciliation and rebuilding in places where young people have previously been parties to conflict and unrest.

So efforts must be made to ensure that youth volunteerism is clearly linked to national development objectives. By integrating volunteerism into youth policies and supporting youth volunteering programmes, Governments can enhance the contributions of youth to peace and development and, in turn, reap benefits for the whole of society.

Volunteering turns young people from passive recipients to engaged actors in development – of both societies and themselves. Through volunteering, youth can prove to governments and civil society that they are a resource to be valued and nurtured. Let’s continue giving them that voice.