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YouthActionNet Blog

Volunteer Power

Sheila Kinkade | January 15, 2016

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, YouthActionNet celebrates the extraordinary contributions of the thousands of volunteers around the globe that make the work of our fellows possible. In 2014 alone, YouthActionNet Fellow initiatives engaged more than 60,300 volunteers. Far beyond painting walls and cleaning parks, today’s young volunteers contribute diverse areas of expertise—from graphic design to accounting—and offer hands-on assistance with everything from mentoring to measuring impact.

She’s the First (StF) wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our volunteers,” says StF Co-founder and Laureate Global Fellow Christen Brandt. Volunteers are engaged in nearly every aspect of StF’s work in providing scholarships to girls in low-income countries. “It’s about giving back and getting involved,” she adds, “but it’s also about being with people who share the same values and who care about each other.” In the video, Reinventing What It Means to be a Volunteer, Christen makes the case for why we need to revisit and redefine what the term ‘volunteer’ means.

Volunteer contributions make it possible for youth-led ventures to grow and expand their impact. In this video interview, Fellow Matthew Morantz, founder of Making Waves Canada, describes the essential role volunteers play in the program’s ability to provide children with disabilities in 14 cities across Canada with customized swimming lessons.

“The reason this program really works is because we have just under 900 incredibly passionate people across Canada who are willing to give their time and energy,” he says. “We’re providing a structure to people who may only have an hour to dedicate but want to change the way that disabilities are viewed and want to change themselves.”

Volunteers not only make big changes possible, but represent a real economic value that frequently goes unnoticed, emphasizes Fellow Peggy Mativo, founder of PACE, which mobilizes high school graduates in Kenya to serve as volunteer teaching assistants. With the country facing a shortage of some 70,000 teachers, PACE works to help fill that gap. Since 2013, it has trained 300 young volunteers who have provided mentoring and support to over 10,000 students at 15 schools.  

“We joke about how time is money,” says Peggy in this video, “but when you look at the potential economic impact that volunteering can have on the economy, I think my government should take it a lot more seriously. And our young people should take it a lot more seriously as well.”

For Ayşe Gökçe Bor, Co-founder of the Library of Stuff in Turkey, volunteering is about doing what one loves. Through the online platform she’s created, visitors are able to lend and borrow, rather than purchase, the items they need. Volunteering for a cause one is passionate about is simply an extension of the same principle. “We want everyone to do what their heart tells them to do,” she says.

(Photo courtesy of PACE in Kenya. Credit: Sam Mulwa.)