From December 2-5, Russia hosted the 5th Annual International Volunteer Forum in Sochi, Russia. I was fortunate enough to be one of five delegates from Malawi who joined 6,500 participants from all around the world. The aim of the forum was to celebrate the national and international volunteer work taking place in Russia and across the world and to foster international cooperation in the field of volunteering and development. We were hosted at the wonderful Sochi Park Hotel, while the sessions happened at Sochi Main Media Centre, just ten minutes drive from the hotel.
The highlight of the Forum was the closing ceremony on 05 December, which doubled as a celebration of International Volunteer Day and the ceremony was officiated by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, alongside his Prime Ministers. This was followed by a concert with wonderful traditional performances as well as an award ceremony rewarding the best volunteer initiatives across Russia. It was fascinating to see volunteerism get this much national and international attention.
Key Highlights from the Forum
The forum had numerous interactive sessions happening around the Media Centre and I got a chance to listen to experts from all fields of life, like governance, education and technology, share their stories. From the many things that were shared, three things really resonated with me and my experience with CorpsAfrica (both as a Volunteer and staff member):
a) How Volunteers can be utilized to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and national projects. It was interesting to hear how Volunteer projects were working towards achieving the SDGs, as this is a mission that CorpsAfrica can identify with. CorpsAfrica Volunteers have over the years implemented numerous projects that directly contribute to the SDGs with SDG 4 (Quality Education) being the most - 31% of projects implemented by CorpsAfrica Volunteers in 2019 were directly contributing towards quality education. It was rewarding to see this role that Volunteers have silently been playing being recognized at an international scale. An interesting example of how Volunteers contribute to national projects came from Russia, which had over 20,000 people who volunteered during the 2014 Olympics held in the country.
b) Volunteering is not only important for gaining experience, but for building confidence as well. This was discussed on a session of how volunteerism can be used as a tool for youth empowerment. One of the experts stressed the point of how volunteering builds confidence in young people. This especially resonated with me, having experienced this during my service as a CorpsAfrica Volunteer, and now getting to witness how the program molds the Volunteers into confident youth.
c) You can volunteer with whatever skill you have; every skill is needed somewhere. I believe this is an encouragement that many youth need to hear as many doubt if the skills they have are relevant and needed somewhere. I was amazed to hear from people from diverse backgrounds who are volunteers in the most unlikely places. There was one individual who started out as a volunteer coach for local football (soccer) matches in their small neighborhood and is now an executive at FIFA. There were people who started out as volunteers from all sectors like education, technology and even ballet, and they all agreed on the same point: that they would not be where they are now if it was not for volunteering.
This 3-day event was a learning opportunity for me. It was my first time travelling to Russia and meeting different people. Experiencing the Russian culture through this forum was the perfect way to end the year.