Volunteerism at the Crossroads in a Changing World
Sunday, January 17, 2010
11:02 AM
NEW YORK CITY—On Thursday, February 26, 2009, the United Nations held a Communications Workshop called Volunteerism at the Crossroads in a Changing World. The panelists spoke of how important it is to volunteer and its’ the value and significance for the world, and how ever-growing the number of volunteers is throughout the past decade. “There are signs everywhere of increased participation and interest among the youth,” the moderator, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, explained.

Gillian Sorensen is the Senior Advisor & National Advocate for the UN Foundation and Former Assistant Secretary General at the United Nations. She has also served as the New York City commissioner for the United Nations. Her responsibilities include diplomatic security, housing and education. Sorensen was the special adviser for public policy from 1995-1996 and is a member of the council of foreign relations. She is a big supporter of volunteerism and comes from a family where volunteering is a fact of life. Sorensen has worked for years with different non-governmental organizations that are empowered by volunteerism. “Non-governmental organizations are self organized and are our essential partners,” once stated by Kofi Annan, for Secretary General to the United Nations.

There is sometimes intense competition between non-governmental organizations. In order to rule out the competition, “They have to be moved and motivated to carry things out,” explained Gillian. “We have to be missionaries, especially during hard times.”

Non-governmental organizations are able to bring about political change. There, however, needs to be more encouragement for individuals to join these organizations. The main focuses of the United Nations currently are children’s health, human rights and climate change. It is important to raise tough issues in a frank way. “Speak truth to power,” projected Sorensen. “You love you’re country [therefore] you want it to be the best it can be.”

Bruce Knotts is the Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. That office has been at the UN since 1962. He received his bachelor’s degree in History from Pepperdine University. He once was one of the “most interactive diplomats” for Africa and has spoken with many people from around the world. During the panel, he stressed how important it is to inform young people about the United Nations. “United Nations studies should be incorporated [more] in schools,” suggests Knotts. “The U.N. is not just located on First Avenue.”

Leslie Wright is the President of the Metro Chapter of the US Committee for UNIFEM. She began volunteering as a Sunday school teacher at a young age in her hometown. Wright holds an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies. She currently volunteers 20 hours a week. “Even though there are many opportunities for young people within the United Nations such as volunteering and internships, it is difficult for some because accreditation and travel serves as a blocker for access to the U.N. It is important to open up the U.N. Briefings to the public and for more non-governmental organizations,” advises Wright. “I recommend that young people stay vigilant, keep sharing ideas, don’t be afraid to take action, download and share information, be informed, there is power in numbers and find good mentors to help you move your agenda forward. Remember that the United Nations is a “political place” and that money talks. It is also important to support your local non-governmental organizations, which is the key to global networking.”

Jenny Han is an outstanding volunteer and student. A current resident of New York City, she is currently a high school senior and actively involved in her student council. She started volunteering at the beginning of high school. Recently, she successfully raised over $5,000 by organizing a benefit concert near her home while meeting many more young volunteers like herself. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences,” Han said. “I would definitely do it again.”

Location: United Nations Headquarters
Author: Vanessa Pinto
NGO: Manhattanville College

I'm a senior majoring in English. I attend and report on UN Briefings and other meetings from October through May. I published a novel at the age of seventeen and have three years of writing experience for my college newspaper, literary and travel magazine. My focus is magazine & editorial writing and travel documentary. I am also active in global volunteer efforts for peace and interfaith alliance, as well as the promotion of animal rights, women's rights and education, and disaster relief.

UNA-USA: YPIC, World Youth Alliance, GPC, Seeds of Peace, WHO, UNICEF, UN University

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October 2009
January 2010