NAIROBI, Kenya – (AA) According to a new report released by the UN in Kenya, volunteers are essential to the success of African governments by making the latter more responsive to the needs of their people.
The report, entitled “The state of the world’s volunteerism 2015,” contends that volunteers’ recent contributions in Africa had been largely undervalued.
Speaking at the report’s launch, former Ghanaian President Jerry John Rawlings said that, in Africa, volunteerism went hand-in-hand with good governance.
“My message to governments is that you can’t govern effectively and develop a country without harnessing the expertise and energy that you find in the wider populace,” Rawlings told attendees.
“And volunteers are the people to help you do this,” he added.
He went on to assert: “The motivation and commitment of individual volunteers needs to be matched by responsive and supportive governments and development actors.”
Rawlings asked Kenyan leaders to pass legislation aimed at safeguarding the status of volunteers and establishing mechanisms for channeling their contributions into decisions that improve people’s lives.
“It is one thing to talk about listening to the people, but quite another to set up the structures and channels so that their voices can actually be heard,” Rawlings said.
During his time as president, Rawlings said he had worked hard to contain Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, a situation that had allowed him to work with a vast number of volunteers.
“I worked with people living with HIV/AIDS and understand… that with the social networks and support provided by volunteers, persons living with HIV/AIDS have become an active part of society,” he said.
For his part, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto said the UN’s new report would lead to a wider understanding of and appreciation for volunteerism as a tool for achieving human development.
“The principles that underpin volunteerism, the principle of free will and solidarity, are universal and noble,” Ruto said.
“In Kenya, we have a robust volunteerism spirit cutting across many organizations that make Kenya a country that understands and appreciates volunteerism,” he asserted.
“As a government,” he added, “we are in the process of concluding… a national volunteerism policy that will provide a police framework that will be consolidated in a legal framework that will give momentum for volunteers and the whole volunteerism fraternity.”
Ruto went on to point out that some 400 Kenyan health workers had helped fight West Africa’s recent Ebola crisis on a volunteer basis.
He said Kenya hoped to use volunteerism to build bridges between communities and deal with the social challenges besetting the East African country.
Key findings from the new UN report – which took 18 months to compile – show that volunteers contributed to enhancing political participation, strengthening accountability and drawing out institutional responsiveness.
The report also contends that, if volunteerism is going to flourish in Africa, governments must create a conducive environment for it.
Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of United Nations Volunteers (UNV), said the Kenyan government had shown a keen interest in using volunteerism to generate social trust, advance social inclusion, improve basic services, and boost human development.
“Currently, Deputy President Ruto is at the forefront of promoting programs on volunteerism. A particular reference is the youth volunteerism policy that he is spearheading, which clearly acknowledges youth as a key social group that needs special consideration by the state,” Dictus said.
He added: “Volunteerism is an opportunity and tool for young people to be engaged in community service for their own development as well as that of society.”
Volunteerism, he went on to say, must be placed in the context of local, national and global efforts to constructively engage with volunteers and create space in which their voices can be heard and capacities utilized.
Active in 130 countries worldwide, the UNV program aims to promote development and peace through volunteerism.
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