International Volunteer Day: Thousands join online film festival

07 Dec 2010

Almost 12,000 people join the United Nations Volunteer trip around the world to celebrate International Volunteer Day

Volunteer peer educators fight the spread of
HIV/AIDS in Vanuatu,Fiji, helping raise
awareness and provide access to condoms.
(UNV, 2010)
Close to 12,000 thousand people contributed to the success of an online film festival to celebrate International Volunteer Day over the weekend. The festival, hosted on the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Facebook page www.facebook.com/unvolunteers, started on Saturday (4 December) with a story about volunteer civic educators working to empower women in Fiji. On the ground in that Pacific Island country, scores of people counted down the final minute before the 24-hour film festival began.

“The Facebook page was put on a widescreen from which the participants watched the first movie. The Pacific Islanders were very proud that the festival started here and will also end in the region. This is a great moment,” said Mahamane Baby UNV Portfolio Manager for the Pacific, who was in Suva for the International Volunteer Day celebrations this year.

From Fiji, the festival started a 24-hour journey around the world, stopping in 12 times zones along the way to see how volunteer action is helping to make the Millennium Development Goals a reality. Every hour a new film was posted with an invitation to participants to share in the story of a volunteer working with the United Nations, or the International Federation of the Red Cross, a civil society organization, or the UK’s Voluntary Services overseas organization. Every two hours the festival moved to a new time zone. During the event, almost 12,000 people offered opinions, exchanged ideas, watched the films, or read the posts. 

The featured films were largely made by volunteers themselves. Their stories took participants to the streets, refugee camps, villages and towns where millions of volunteers are working to foster peace and development around the world. Film festival participants joined volunteer peer educators in Vanuatu, as they taught other young people how to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS. Participants followed Sonia Aguilar through the Amazon jungle to a refugee camp where she works with women on health issues; and they joined four volunteers in Lao PDR for a lunch of fried insects as their edible insect project starts to improve incomes and nutrition there. Later, a group of young Kenyan volunteers, who live in a slum of almost one million people, took participants on a tour of the challenges their community faces; while in Cyprus, participants saw how volunteers from both sides of the conflict are working together, for the first time, to meet common environmental concerns — the most pressing of these being water resource management.

According to Johns Hopkins University, volunteers contribute US$ 400 billion to the global economy every year. But, their contribution is more than merely financial, says the United Nations Volunteers Executive Coordinator, Flavia Pansieri. “Volunteerism contributes to promoting the inclusion of those who don’t participate. It contributes to social cohesion in situations where the link of trust between citizens and state has been broken by conflict. And, in broader terms, it contributes to building social capital.”

As the festival passed over South America, Ms. Pansieri was on the ground in Colombia celebrating International Volunteers Day with the 17 United Nations Volunteers serving there. “As we celebrate…we thank the many volunteers who continue to give their time, talent and skills, often in difficult circumstances, to promote peace and development. You are an inspiration to us all,” she said. She also expressed her determination that 2011 – the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Volunteer – would prove an opportunity to better understand, promote and strengthen volunteerism. "With the right support and infrastructure, volunteer efforts are a true complementary component of any institutional peace, development and humanitarian effort,” she said.

Towards the end of the festival, on the second last stop of the tour, participants met two online volunteers – one from Malaysia who helps a peasant association in Guatemala to improve nutrition, and another from the U.K. who coordinates and teaches post-secondary correspondence courses to refugees and internally displaced persons in Afghanistan, Nepal and Uganda. "I also welcome the strong growth of online volunteering, which connects people around the globe and provides them with opportunities to contribute to development and the work of the United Nations. Online volunteering has great potential and I encourage all partners to explore what more can be done to harness the power of the Internet this way," said the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his statement to mark International Volunteer Day.

As the festival reaches its final stop, back in the Pacific, a film about the incredible surge of volunteers who helped communities in Samoa recover from the worst disaster in living memory brought the festival to a close with a final flurry of comments from participants who said the films had been informative and inspiring. “If people work together, they can move mountains,” one participant concluded.

All the films are now viewable on the Film Festival Tab at www.facebook.com/unvolunteers.