Volunteers Break Stereotypes and Inspire Lao Youth
Volunteers are young people, with no experience, waiting for a better opportunity – is the usual stereotype about volunteers.
An event named “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.”, held in Vientiane on 24 November, aimed to break this stereotype by initiating a vivid discussion among youth who joined the event looking for answers to their numerous questions.
The event aimed to celebrate International Volunteer Day, and was organised by the UN Volunteers Programme in Lao PDR jointly with UNFPA in Laos, providing an opportunity for more than 70 curious young people to meet with volunteers of various ages, working in diverse areas, from different educational and professional backgrounds, with a variety of life experiences. Vientiane youth learnt that people have many reasons to volunteer: to help others, to serve society, to learn new things and to gain new experiences, but most importantly, to contribute their time and talents to a cause in they believe in.
The event consisted of screening the United Nations in Lao PDR’s film “This is Development: The Sustainable Development Goals in Lao PDR”, followed by a panel discussion with volunteers and a presentation on how to become a UN Volunteer.
“Since I was 9, I lived in France, but have always dreamed to come back to Laos to make my country a better place”, says Mr. Korakot Tanseri, former National UN Volunteer, who worked with communities in Salavan province to fight poverty, empower women and build sustainable livelihoods. “I was happy when I saw that UN Volunteers were recruiting a National Volunteer to work in the provinces. Not only did I grow as a professional, but could also contribute to improving life of people in Salavan province”.
For Ms. Shoudchai Phanthavong, volunteering to raise public awareness on responsible driving became a meaning of her new life after becoming a victim of a road accident in 2007. Since then, she and her Road Crash Prevention Group volunteers work all over Laos to prevent accidents by telling youth about their own experience and about responsible driving.
Mr. Thongdeng Silakoune, UNAIDS Country Manager, spent a year doing voluntary work. He supported non-profit organisations on planning, training and data analysis for advocacy work on HIV/AIDS. “There is a myth that you have to be young, or inexperienced, or jobless to be a volunteer. Look at me and you will see that you can volunteer any time, at any age, at any level of your career, even while working full time. All you need is a desire to donate your time, energy and skills with free will, for the benefit of the community”.
Ms. Phimmavong Chandavieng, Volunteer of YPEER, Youth Peer Education Group, shared her volunteer experience in the field of sexual and reproductive health: “When I first started, people were curious about what I was doing and often passed judgements. Today I can say I have proved them wrong. Being a volunteer is not only about helping others. The most valuable thing that you can gain is improving your skills and making yourself a better person.”
Ms. Chandavieng also presented the concept of Noi, a figure who represents all the 700,230 adolescent girls in Lao PDR. Noi was created as an entry point for dialogue on issues that adolescent girls are facing, such as dropping out of school, child marriage and early pregnancy. Research* shows that Lao PDR has the highest adolescent birth rate in the Mekong Region with 76 live births per 1,000 girls in the 15-19 age group. Participants responded enthusiastically to Noi and provided their own opinions as to why it’s important to volunteer to help adolescent girls.
One of the participants, Mr. Toumayang Kheuyang said: “If we want to reduce the maternal mortality rate in our country, it’s important we help Noi and make sure she can delay her pregnancy.”
The panel discussion was followed by a vivid discussion around issues of volunteerism, myths behind volunteerism, challenges that volunteers face and what should be done to effectively promote volunteerism in Laos.
As the final accord to the event, Ms. Khamkhoune Xayalath, UN Volunteers Programme Assistant made a presentation on how one can become a UN Volunteer, by serving either in their own country, abroad or online.
The event provided an excellent opportunity for youth to meet with volunteers from Laos, Korea, China and Japan, and learn about their experience and motivation. The audience left the event inspired to start looking for volunteering opportunities around them.