The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme has a lot in common with AARP. Like AARP, a fundamental principle of the UN, and therefore UNV, is to improve the lives of all people. Moreover, UNV contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. UNV embraces volunteerism as universal and inclusive, and recognizes the values that sustain it: free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity.
A case in point is Lauri Hukkanen, 70, a UNV Air Operations Assistant supporting the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). “Thank goodness in the UNV system there is no age limit,” says Lauri, “Even at my age, I am able to continue and offer my contribution to the common good.”
Originally from Finland, Lauri, is the oldest UN Volunteer serving with this UN peacekeeping mission and does not take it for granted. When he retired from the Joint African Union and UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in Darfur, Sudan, Lauri had worked in 12 UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East. Lauri vowed to return as a UN Volunteer and was a UN Volunteer with the UN peacekeeping mission in Chad (MINURCAT) before taking up his UNV assignment with MONUSCO based in Entebbe, Uganda.“I work mainly in the open air on the aprons (aircraft parking areas) at Entebbe International Airport,” says Lauri. “I take care of the arrivals and departures of UN aircraft and ensure that air safety regulations are fulfilled.” Lauri says. “Joining UNV was the correct decision in my struggle to continue contributing to the UN. Over the years, volunteering with the UN has been the best remedy for my mental and physical well-being.”
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 through resolution 26/59. It contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world. Based in Bonn, Germany, and with offices in New York, Tokyo and 90 developing countries, UNV’s activities expand to more than 130 countries every year.
The average age of a UN Volunteer is 38 years, and while UNV has a burgeoning new youth volunteer component, the mainstay of its personnel is made up of international and national UN Volunteers who bring the real skills and experience to their assignments. In 2012, over 800 of the almost 7,000 UN Volunteers on duty were 50 years old and above, representing 12 per cent of the total number of UN Volunteers. They came from 117 countries around the world and were deployed to 82 countries. Of these, 22 percent were women.
Over 70 percent of the 50+ UN Volunteers were assigned to UN peacekeeping and political, peace building missions where they are among the civilian staff that restores basic utilities and community services in the immediate aftermath of conflict. Civilian personnel, including UN Volunteers, provide protection, the rule of law, security sector reform, and transitional justice. They also carry out natural resource management, support transitional governance programmes and contribute to institution- and state-building initiatives.
The remaining 30 percent of 50+ UN Volunteers were assigned to different UN agencies that take the lead in promoting sustainable human development, alleviating poverty, building democratic societies, providing disaster relief, safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees, and fighting hunger.
In 2012 alone, older UN Volunteers performed various duties. Significant numbers filled assignments as medical doctors (87), electoral advisors and officers (58), vehicle and generator mechanics (56), air operations assistants (30), midwives (21) and engineers (14).
UNV Agriculture Development Specialist Primitivo “Tom” Tengco, 62, from the Philippines, was a UN Volunteer in Botswana, Malawi and Zambia. He did research and extension in the Philippines and has worked for 35 years to develop totally sustainable farm systems to improve agricultural output. He spent the last eight years in Africa, sharing his knowledge.
“Zambia’s abundant wetlands, for example, reminded me of the Philippines,” he recalls. “I took every opportunity to share proven techniques we use in my homeland that could improve farms’ efficiency and increase food production.”
Aissata Maiga, a UNV Provincial Electoral Assistance Officer originally from Mali, strives to promote voting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to increase the number of Congolese women voting and running in elections. One of the few female UN Volunteers over 50, Aissata, 65, is assigned to the Electoral Unit of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR of Congo (MONUSCO) based in Kalemie in the Northern Katanga District.
“I have written several training modules to help Congolese women in their political life,” Aissata says. “Among them are ‘Women and Elections’ and ‘Information and Practical Advice’ for women candidates, women politicians and women in general,” she added.
“The volunteer lives the day-to-day realities of his/her area and shares the material and spiritual joys and sufferings of the people living there,” says Aissata.
“I always feel that learning and sharing never stops and the elder population should be given an opportunity to contribute to the community where their expertise is required,” says UN Volunteer Rufina Rana, 62, from Nepal, is a UN Dispensary Nurse in the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. Rufina took up her assignment in Lao PDR after 21 years of service with the UN in Nepal and a two year UNV assignment with the UN peace mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
She seems to follow her own advice, saying “I have been very much motivated by some of our very senior nurses (above 70 years) who are still very active in their professional life.”
“During my UNV assignment in Sudan, I was the first UNV nurse to arrive in the mission and deployed to a very remote duty station,” Rufina recalls. “It was very difficult and challenging but after having realized the importance of service and dedication of UN Volunteers on the ground, I felt honored and proud to be a UN Volunteer.”
When Miguel-Ángel Marín, 75, retired from the Canadian university where he had taught computer engineering for almost 40 years, he faced a challenge shared by many retirees: find new meaningful activities to replace work.
Today, as well as being an active volunteer in his neighborhood, Miguel-Ángel also uses his knowledge to help the global community as a UN Online Volunteer.
He is one of the thousands of people who connect with development organizations online and volunteer their time and skills from the comfort of their own homes. In 2012, UNV’s Online Volunteering service enabled hundreds of non-profit development organizations to benefit from the support of 11,000 individuals from 169 countries over the Internet.
The Online Volunteering service gives development organizations access to a broader pool of knowledge and resources to enhance their capacities, while it offers individuals worldwide further opportunities to volunteer for development and contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
As an online volunteer, Miguel-Ángel has translated documents into Spanish, his mother tongue, for organizations around the world. His collaboration with the U.S. based Professional Education Organization International (PEOI) even allowed him to share his engineering expertise, as he translated courses in electrical engineering, which the organization offers to disadvantaged students worldwide.
“Giving to those organizations, to people who do not have access to a formal education and training, stimulates me intellectually and gives me a feeling of satisfaction,” says Miguel-Ángel, adding, “Giving freely of oneself is a wonderful experience. It simply warms the heart.”
During 2012, eleven Americans, ranging from 53 to 79 years old, carried out UNV assignments in nine countries: Afghanistan, Chad, China, the Dominican Republic, East Timor, Haiti, Indonesia, Malawi and South Sudan. The four women and seven men filled posts calling for managers, communications specialists and administrative personnel, and for a stress management counselor, and an electoral advisor. The oldest currently serves as a medical doctor in Malawi - and I know him well, as Malawi was my last posting before joining UNV. This incredible professional drive and capacity to transfer his knowledge and skills to young Malawian doctors drew admiration from all!
Visit www.unv.org for more information about being a UN Volunteer.
About the author
Mr. Richard Dictus (Netherlands) took up his appointment as the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme on 2 January 2013.
Richard joined UNV after having served as United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator / United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Malawi (January 2009 – December 2012).
During his four years in Malawi, Richard worked towards his vision of a unified and coordinated UN system in Malawi, which supports the country to achieve its development efforts with increased efficiency and innovation.