Volunteer activists fight for indigenous people's rights
09 August 2001

Bonn, Germany: Many of the 123 National Committees and partner organizations for the International Year of Volunteers (IYV) 2001 will commemorate the role of volunteer advocates striving for indigenous human rights on this, the seventh International Day of the World's Indigenous People.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are 350 million indigenous people representing more than 5,000 languages and cultures on every continent.

In India, where some 51 per cent of the indigenous people live below the poverty line, volunteers are fighting for basic rights. A national UN Volunteer working for the promotion of volunteering in India, Rajeev Singh, speaks out about the plight of the Dalits, a term referring to the ex "untouchables" and the indigenous people of India.

"Dalit rights are human rights," he said "Vast sections of the 'untouchables' as they were known, stood up for their right to a dignified life, and questioned the basis of caste." Singh along with other volunteer activists in India are using IYV 2001 to campaign for Dalit rights.

An IYV partner organization, the Centre for Alternative Dalit Media (CADAM) has been working to protect the rights of the indigenous in India. They will bring their campaign, as volunteer activists to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in late August. "It is hoped that the struggles of the 'dalits' and other marginalized sections will find an appropriate and constructive platform at the World Conference, and this will truly facilitate and felicitate during the IYV, the voluntary spirit of this movement, which promises to wipe out caste oppression from the face of this earth," Singh said.

Other IYV partners, such as the Countrywide Indigenous Pilipinos Foundation Inc. (COIN-PIL) in the Philippines, will recognize the efforts of its volunteers today. Angelito Del Rosario, the President of COIN-PIL says that the award ceremony is to "remind [us of] our social values and for the grassroots marginalized peoples, more specifically for the indigenous peoples welfare…We call this people empowerment." October has been set aside as Indigenous People's Month in the Philippines.

The UNV programme is the volunteer arm of the United Nations and acts as focal point for the International Year of Volunteers 2001. It has helped to establish 123 national IYV committees worldwide with over 17,000 constituents working for the promotion, recognition, networking and facilitation of volunteers.

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