Just after Christmas last year the underprivileged people of Eikwe, Ghana, received an unexpected gift. Volunteers from the Takoradi district, led by volunteer coordinators Kwesi Banson and Samuel Otabil, gathered together as many clothes, food and books as they could and then drove the one and a half hours to deliver them to those lacking these basic provisions.
They did so well in collecting donations that, after loading up, they had trouble shutting the doors on the van they were using to transport the goods.
The volunteers organising the initiative in question hailed from the Ghanaian NGO, Youth Volunteers Without Frontiers (YVWF). YVWF is an organization that seeks to promote youth volunteering and the mobilization of resources in order to improve the lives of the marginalized in society.
Archie Donkoh, YVWF founder and programme coordinator, believes that empowering youth to volunteer is a key component of ensuring a sustainable future.
“In a nutshell, our mission is to embed the spirit of volunteerism into young people and to enable them to be a resource for community development. We believe that through our initiatives, the potential of young people can be identified and also that their energies can be harnessed and channelled into activities that promote wealth creation and better living standards. By encouraging the youth to volunteer, we believe that this will have a rippling effect on the community. Our vision is to have a generation of patriotic young people who appreciate the significance of volunteerism and its contribution to development”.
He described how this “spirit” of volunteerism, to him, is about the “youthful willingness to motivate themselves” to take part in activities that give something without receiving any financial reward. He hopes that the work of the YVWF and other organisations like it can be supported by bigger institutions, even the Government of Ghana, as a way forward;
“As a youth leader, I realised that there was limited recognition of the potential benefits of youth volunteerism and that this was something that was captured in the youth policy of Ghana itself. We thought that, as youths, in our own small way, we can help the government shoulder such a responsibility by making volunteerism attractive to young people.”
He added, “I believe that donor agencies and governments should step up their initiatives to support youth volunteers because of the fact that young people easily adapt to change and are more capable of making sure initiatives are longer lasting.”
Funding is also an issue. YVWF design their projects to operate on low or no budget but instead focus their efforts on mobilising people to give their time and what possessions they have but don’t need. Together, Mr Donkoh explains, their small contributions add up.
When asked how they find and then mobilise their human capacity, he explains how most of the youth he has met are interested to help in some way, so the real question is how to get an initiative started and then how to keep it going. The YVWF use social media, in particular Facebook, to generate awareness of the campaigns they run and also to let volunteers know how and when to mobilise.
He then turned to his most exciting achievement and smiled as he reminisced about the gift gathering and subsequent distribution on the 26 December 2011 in Eikwe. “Without their knowledge we spoke with their community leaders to find out what the community needed. In our own small way we mobilised resources and ended up making a huge donation to them in the form clothing, footwear and other things to support them.”
But then discussing the challenges they face, he talked about there being a need for greater support in terms of networking; that is, support from government or donors in order to involve his organisation with other networks. Obtaining financial resources is also an issue. He explained, “Because of what some other organisations have done in the past, it can sometimes be difficult to get other organisations to accept you as a credible partner, in terms of, say, raising funds”. He explains how the YVWF do work with other organisations, such as the NGO United to Heal, but that they would appreciate meeting more organisations with similar goals in order to learn from experiences and to work together.
Before leaving, we asked Archie what he would say to the international community gathering in Rio in June if he had the chance. He said, “I believe in volunteerism and the factors enabling sustainable development. Young people can keep up the momentum by volunteering. If I had the chance, I would call upon all stakeholders to support initiatives to encourage youth volunteerism”. The ActionCounts team said they would pass his message on.
Youth Volunteers without Frontiers
Archie Donkoh, YVWF founder and programme coordinator
P.O.BOX 252, KUMASI, GHANA
Tel.: 233(0)243203419/ 233(0)244982690
Facebook group page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/youthvolunteerswf/