UN Volunteers: Stories from the field
December 5 is International Volunteer Day, when we recognise and highlight the contributions of volunteers in the service of others.
Through a partnership with the UN Volunteers programme, OCHA counts among its ranks volunteers who are making significant contributions to humanitarian response in countries from Colombia to Zimbabwe.
“Volunteering is an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves that work can be done by inspiration, compromise and service.”
Aleyda Valdes’ experience with volunteering goes back to her days as an undergraduate student, working directly with people affected by armed conflict in El Salvador. Several years later, she spent three months in Southern Africa doing research on the impact of HIV and AIDS.
“The contact I had with several victims of the disease really convinced me about becoming a humanitarian worker,” Aleyda said.
Driven by her interest in the humanitarian and development fields, Aleyda decided to apply for an opportunity with UN Volunteers while pursuing a master’s degree in Development Studies and International Relations. She found an opportunity working with OCHA’s office in Arauca, Colombia as Field Officer, where she contributed to coordination between the UN and international NGOs.
Although this opportunity has provided her with hands-on experience of humanitarian work in the field, she has discovered that the profession can be demanding and challenging:
“Every goal is difficult to accomplish as we live in one of the worst-affected parts of the country surrounded by violence, armed strikes, restricted access and accidents with explosive devices,” she says. “In Arauca, some humanitarian and State institutions have faced access constraints in remote rural areas due to the presence of non-state armed groups. These limitations have seriously affected the regularity of food distributions to indigenous people, who face food security and health crises because of the violence.”
In spite of these difficulties, Aleyda says being a UN Volunteer has helped her prepare to work as a humanitarian in complex situations, and to become aware of the importance of coordination in humanitarian activities.
“I would like to continue working with the UN System if possible, and this experience with OCHA has strengthened my belief,” she says.