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Youth UPF

Youth Volunteers as Peacebuilders in Europe and Eurasia

Paris, France - Youth delegations from Europe and Eurasia who had come to Paris for a European Leadership Conference also met separately to discuss youth volunteerism as a way to bring the two regions closer. The young delegates were participants in the conference entitled “Eurasia and Europe: Cooperating for a Culture of Peace and Human Development,” which was jointly organized by UPF and the Women’s Federation for World Peace on Dec. 3 and 4, 2013.

The day before the conference began, there was a “Youth Day” meeting called “The Role of Volunteering in Enhancing Cooperation for a Culture of Peace in Eurasia and Europe.” In addition, during the ELC itself several youth delegates presented talks as part of a “Youth Panel.”

Volunteering success stories

The “Youth Day” began with talks by representatives of successful volunteer organizations. Ms. Anastasia Nefedova, founder and director of a Russian NGO called Joy, explained how student volunteers visit orphans and promote friendships among children of different orphanages. Ms. Nargiz Ismailova spoke about the Mr. and Miss University competition, a project of Youth UPF in Russia, which rewards university students for contributions to their community and the world.

Mr. Marat Shafigullin, chairman of the Eurasian Club of Youth Ambassadors for Peace, explained how young people develop an interest in international affairs by simulating the activities of world organizations such as the United Nations and UNESCO. Ms. Lilia Romadan, head of a scientific public society in Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, described her group’s volunteer work such as visiting orphanages.

Ms. Elena Kolesnichenko of the Adaptation and Learning Center described the center’s efforts to help refugee children in Russia as well as other projects to help autistic, handicapped and homeless people.

Lastly Ms. Sonja Read spoke about the European Voluntary Service (EVS), one of the few organizations providing opportunities for Europeans to volunteer in Eurasia and vice versa. It also provides charitable projects with volunteers and funds.

Volunteering challenges

After these presentations, a roundtable addressed many of the challenges to volunteering, especially joint projects between Eurasia and Europe.

The idea of working for free has been inconceivable to many Russians until recently. Volunteering at major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, has gained popularity, but largely because the volunteers receive many branded accessories and additional benefits.

A discussion on motivating people to volunteer elicited suggestions such as: covering volunteers’ expenses, providing volunteers with references that are useful on the job market, and highlighting the values behind volunteering. It was debated whether “selfish” reasons should be used to motivate people to volunteer, especially since volunteering should be focused on fulfilling the needs of others, not oneself.

Training volunteers adequately, especially in the psychological skills that are needed in communicating with the handicapped and with children, is another challenge. However, character education programs of the kind taught by UPF can be very valuable in training volunteers, as can leadership training. Another suggestion was that more NGOs make internships available to students as a kind of on-the-job training.

A major challenge to joint Eurasian-European volunteering is visa issues. It has been a continuous challenge for young Russian volunteers to obtain a visa to participate in projects in European countries; even at this conference several of the Russian participants were almost unable to come due to visa issues. The process of obtaining a visa is laborious and decreases the motivation to volunteer abroad. It was agreed that elected officials should be made aware of this problem so that they may ease the visa requirements for volunteers.

Youth Panel speakers

Speakers from the “Youth Panel”—not only young people but also a professional working with youth—also addressed the ELC on the role of youth volunteering in enhancing a culture of peace between Europe and Eurasia.

Mr. Marat Shafigullin from the Russian Federation Committee on Youth Affairs suggested that young people will play a significant role in enhancing a culture of peace in the future. He provided an overview of youth volunteering activities in Russia that promote intercultural communication, such as the Model UN and the Eurasian Club for Young Ambassadors for Peace.

Mr. Xavier Guiavarc’h, director of an agricultural college and president of a humanitarian charity in Bretagne, France, presented youth volunteering projects that he had organized for French youth in the former Yugoslavia. He emphasized the positive effects that volunteering has on a young person’s character and pointed out that volunteering can break down barriers between countries.

Ms. Anastasia Nefedova, a Russian student and director of Joy, an NGO working with orphanages, proposed a postcard exchange project in which orphans and kindergarten children from different countries and regions would exchange drawings and cards. This exchange would raise awareness of other cultures at an early age.

Ms. Marlies Haider, youth coordinator at Youth UPF in Austria, said that international volunteering breaks down prejudices and creates friendships and trust beyond national borders. She referred to a youth exchange that had taken place between Youth UPF Austria and young people from Moscow.

The presentations led to a lively discussion, in particular among the Russians in the audience, who wanted to know more about the support of the government for existing Russian volunteer projects and how much volunteer projects should be funded by the government. Other questions touched on the issue of trust between Eurasian and European youth and how the success of volunteer projects is measured.

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