When in 2012, during a women cohort group discussion session at the Wulki Farm, outside Monrovia, I mentioned to my Eastern Mennonites University colleagues that there is no heart stronger than that of a volunteer, it generated lots of discussions. While most of my colleagues from Fiji, Solomon Islands, USA, Kenya, Somalia and Liberia tend to agree with this assertion, some from other countries needed more information to be convinced. I anticipate that this week’s topic on volunteering for peace and development would do the same.
In simple terms, volunteerism can be defined as doing work without the expectation of remuneration. According to Marjorie Moore, “ Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote everyday about the kind of community you want to live in.” In the opinion of Candice Witzkoske, “Volunteers are somebody! Somebody who cares, somebody who devotes time without pay…”
In the words of Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General, “Volunteerism… is a fundamental source of community strength, resilience, solidarity and social cohesion. It can help effect positive social change by fostering inclusive societies that respect diversity, equality and the participation of all.”
While the words of important leaders might hold true on the definitions and benefits of volunteering for peace, we have come to notice in Africa and other conflict zones of the world that people, especially young people, are quick to volunteer for mob violence and most often mob justice. In most instances, young persons have been co-opted into wars as child soldiers but never as volunteers for peace.
As you are aware, Messengers of Peace-Liberia is a local non-governmental organization that promotes volunteerism to support peace throughout the country. With over 20 peace clubs in schools and communities and over a thousand youth volunteers, MOP-Liberia firmly believes that volunteerism can transform the pace of and nature of peace consolidation. We contribute to peace advocacy in Liberia by advocating for volunteer peace advocates, encouraging partners to support as well as integrate volunteerism into their programs.
As peace volunteers, we have extraordinary opportunity to create beneficial change and have a positive impact on people’s lives. Volunteering is not merely about providing human resources or filling gaps but assisting and uplifting communities so that people can aspire for a better tomorrow.
Data generated by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in 37 countries (Liberia not included) revealed that at least 12 percent of the adult populations in those countries are volunteers. They presented the equivalent of 20.8 million full-time workers, and made a US400 billion contribution to the economy.
We, young Liberians, can overcome conflict and consolidate peace in Liberia through empowerment for change in the nation’s big challenges related to the use of our natural resources, environment, education, health, gender equality, governance and corruption.
We applaud the fact that some young Liberians are working in volunteer roles in development programs in the counties, through the National Youth Volunteer Program and the Liberia Youth Employment Program (LYEP).
MOP-Liberia will like to welcome more volunteers to peace building and consolidation initiatives in Liberia. The role of volunteers will be critical to the implementation of the peace hubs in Liberia. A volunteer action can have a long term impact and achieve a ripple effect that extends far beyond the immediate beneficiaries of our efforts. Besides the added value of volunteerism, voluntary actions can also inspire others to volunteer and to believe they, too, can make a difference that contributes to peace.
In the words of Douglas Pagels, “The more you’re bothered by something that’s wrong, the more you’re empowered to change things and make them right. The more we follow that philosophy as individuals, the easier it will be to brighten our horizons outward from there, taking in our communities, our cultures, our countries and the common ground we stand on. The crucible of peace and good will is far too empty, and each of us must- in some way-help to fill it.”
As a young person growing up in mama Liberia, where do you stand? What do you take responsibility for? And what do you not take responsibility for? Let us read from you. We encourage you to note that intergenerational initiatives also address national development priorities. They counteract inequality and exclusion, encourage active citizenship and even improve public infrastructure development through community-based projects.
Our MOP-Liberia Facebook page provides an opportunity for all those individuals and like-minded organizations, which are already doing something about peace consolidation to share their experiences and encourage each other inspire to a broader community to follow our footprint. Contribute your thoughts-as well as your photos.
I will like to end this article with an inspiring quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love”
Until next week, Peace, above all, Peace First, Let Peace Prevail.