14th General Election (GE14)
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim (seventh from left) and IAVE world president Kylee Bates (ninth from left) with Salam Gold Award recipients at the Asia-Pacific Regional Volunteer Conference in Kuala Lumpur recently.

A WORLD without poverty — this was the opening remarks of Sachal Aneja, a social activist from India. He uttered these words at an international conference on volunteerism a few days ago.

Sachal is from an Indian non-governmental organisation (NGO) known as Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO). His remarks caught everyone’s attention: “Our mission is to help create and promote a world without poverty.

“We believe we can do this through volunteering. We believe we can make a difference. In fact, in India, we have made significant inroads where we have helped more than 54,000 people get better access to livelihood opportunities in the last two years.”

The young man made the remarks at the just-concluded Asia-Pacific Regional Volunteer Conference organised by Yayasan Salam in collaboration with the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE).

Every two years, NGOs and other non-profit organisations in the various parts of the world will meet to discuss new ways to promote volunteerism as a means of changing lives, making them better and more meaningful.

A development communication strategist with VSO, Sachal, for the last 13 years, has been promoting volunteerism in the Asia-Pacific region. He has done work in many countries, including Bangladesh, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Cambodia and Pakistan.

Sachal has been engaging corporates and donors for many years, especially seeking sponsorships and funding. These funds are used in many ways.

For instance, 3,000 slum-dwelling women in India gained employment through a skills training project with corporate partners.

Activists like Sachal make a great difference in the livelihood of the marginalised and the underprivileged.

His dream of helping to wipe out poverty may take a very long time, and perhaps, even impossible. But, he certainly has laid the foundation for others to continue the good work.

Individuals like Sachal are heroes and they provide a key element to the marginalised – HOPE. Hope alone is not enough, and he realised that.

There must be creativity as well. For instance, Sachal helped trained 27 “climate-smart agri-professionals” to reach out to rural farmers in Madhya Pradesh to understand how they could safeguard against the effects if climate change.

We hope to hear more from activists like Sachal.

Sharing knowledge, experiences and observation has always been the hallmark of this NGO’s conferences. As aptly put by IAVE world president, Kylee Bates, conferences such as last week’s provide an excellent platform for learning and sharing.

It was also an excellent opportunity for networking towards the common good. In her closing speech, Bates reminded participants of the importance of volunteering as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Volunteering.

The declaration was first expressed by a committed group of leaders in volunteering in 1990. It has then been revised and updated. The declaration seek to challenge and inspire those involved in volunteering.

She said: “Volunteering is a fundamental building block of civil society. It brings to life the noblest aspirations of humankind — the pursuit of peace, freedom, opportunity, safety and justice for all people.

“In this era of globalisation and continuous change, the world is becoming smaller, more interdependent and more complex.

“In a world of constant change and increasing complexity where this is evermore challenging, IAVE continues to strive to provide a universal platform for people of all cultures and regions who believe in the power of volunteering to change the world to come together to share knowledge and ideas.”

Such sharing of information and knowledge among NGOs has largely been on an ad hoc basis. This has to change. Perhaps, it is time for a national and regional depository where NGOs can share resources to make them more efficient and effective.

There are many things to share such as templates, solutions to common problems and issues, knowledge on best practices and a host of other matters than can help NGOs maximise their limited resources.

One characteristic of NGOs is their territorial nature. This must change. No one NGO has a monopoly over doing good for the community. Doing good has to be a shared vision and mission. Take out the selfish nature and remove the so-called “ownership” of community projects.

One way of doing this could be through exchange programmes. Such programmes can start at the national level and then move on to regional and international level.

Imagine a volunteer from Malaysia be sent on attachment to Sachal’s VSO and vice versa. Only good can come out of this exercise. Volunteering is a cross-border mission and can bring tremendous benefits and advantages.

At the regional level, NGOs need to get closer together for better bonding and interaction. Today, this can be done easily and cheaply. A virtual platform can be established. It only needs good connectivity!

The world of volunteering can also do with more high-profile individuals to join it. At the conference last week, it was clear what known personalities could do to hype a cause.

We had singer-composer-songwriter Faizal Tahir from the NGO iamFAITHMEN coaxing and entertaining the crowd with his brand of community service.

With his song Assalamualaikum Dunia, Faizal won many new fans and believers in the cause of volunteerism. A borrowed guitar had him singing the song on stage as he closed his presentation.

So, for those of you out there who want to change the world and make it a better place, I say this: “Come on! Sign up! We got good deeds for you to do!”

Twitter: @aatpahitmanis

The writer is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia

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