Somebody who is knowledgeable in a particular area and is willing to offer that expertise to help an individual, group, organisation or even a country is a “volunteer”. So volunteering means no body forces you to make your contribution – you, yourself decide that this is what you want to do, you work for no charge.

Being a true volunteer is not easy. It is not something that anyone can do within a night or a day, a week or a month. It is a commitment; it needs preparation, feelings for others, and the willingness to share. The main characteristic of volunteerism is the attitude of the volunteers towards others. It is the selflessness of the volunteers. Volunteerism is nearly as old as mankind, but its use as an international development tool is more recent.

The importance of this tool was first officially recognised by the United Nations (UN) in 1961 but it was only on 7th December 1970, the UN General Assembly created a program officially named the United Nations Volunteers (UNV). The program began operations in early 1971.

The purpose in creating these crops of International Volunteers was three fold; to provide developing countries with an additional source of qualified and trained manpower with community based initiatives for self-reliance and in humanitarian relief and rehabilitation; to give young professionals from all nations the chance to take part in worldwide development activities; to make available to the UN system and member states, the energetic and catalytic contribution of well-qualified professionals to move by their vision of a better world that they would provide their skills voluntarily.

In addition to making their own skills available to developing countries, UNVs help train national personnel to carry on the volunteer work. Where their assignments have ended overall responsibility for program is given to United Nations Development Program (UNDP), under whose auspices UNV operates. The UNV are just one part of a worldwide corps of volunteers who are working every day to improve people’s lives. They promote and protect human rights, advance the cause of the environment, reduce conflict in post-war societies, deliver humanitarian assistance and work to eradicate poverty. UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilising an increasing number and diversity of volunteer, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world.

UNV headquarters is located in Bonn (Germany), Executive coordinator direct UNV activities and is responsible for the development, promotion and management of the program. Both UNV headquarters and the volunteers work closely with UN Agencies involved in technical cooperation programs, such as ILO, FAO, UNESCO, WHO, UNCTAD, UNICEF, etc.

Since the program was created thousands volunteers have served in community-led development programs, humanitarian relief efforts and peace-building activities, as well as in initiatives to protect the environment, empower women and promote men rights. There are more than 20,000 qualified, experienced and motivated men and women of about 140 nationalities currently serving in developing countries as volunteer specialists and field workers and national UNVS, in their own countries. The majority hails from developing countries. All have university level or higher technical qualifications. Some Pakistani UNVs are also serving in different countries.

The UNV program involves a wide spread of sectors. It maintains a roster covering 115 professional categories. Agriculture, Health and education feature prominently, as social conditions, community development, vocational training, industry, transport and population. UN Volunteers are volunteers in every sense of the word, accepting their assignments not as employment but as service. Each UNV contract offers the volunteer not a career, but a two year commitment, not a salary to commensurate with his or her profession, but a monthly allowance adequate for life’s necessities. UNV office in Pakistan was established in end of 1989.

To be a volunteer is to be a person with a view to service. And the premise of the program is that it gestures goodwill, help and encouragement which can really make a difference in people’s lives around the globe.

That is why the UN General Assembly had declared the 5th December to be an International Volunteers Day (IVD) in recognition of valuable contribution of all those selfless individuals who devote their precious time to the cause of humanity. It was first celebrated in 1985 around the world. International Volunteers, Day is celebrated in different ways. It is not a day for recruiting volunteers rather a day for acknowledging and appreciating the valuable work done by volunteers. IVD is important because it draws attention to the development successes resulting from people working directly with people helping other individuals improve their lives.

On this day the people all over the world pledge to the noble cause of mankind, and volunteer their spirits to the purpose. In Pakistan too, individual volunteers, and organisations and supporters of volunteerism are rendering commendable services in all the fields. This is high time for us to pledge more to this noble cause as nothing except volunteerism can serve the humanity better.


The writer is a freelance columnist.