Skip to main content

You are here


On International Volunteer Day, OCHA highlights role of volunteers in humanitarian response

06 Dec 2021


Stefania Trassari on one of the many missions she has participated in with the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams. © OCHA

Every year, the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme coordinates and marks International Volunteer Day on 5 December as an opportunity to celebrate the valuable impact of all volunteers worldwide. This year’s theme – Volunteer Now for our common future – is especially relevant to OCHA’s mandate.

OCHA is proud to work with volunteers to help save lives and protect people. Volunteers play an important role as first responders to humanitarian crises, in promoting local ownership of humanitarian responses, and in ensuring inclusive humanitarian action.

“Being a UN Volunteer changed my professional life”, says Stefania Trassari, now a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) veteran. “It put the basis for my professional career and taught me a lot about humanitarian work and the professionalism and dedication needed to do this job”, she adds.

Ms. Trassari served as a UNV twice, the first time in 2004 with the World Food Programme in Madagascar. In 2008, she served with OCHA’s Information Management Branch, and was assigned to work first with the ReliefWeb team in New York, and then in Panama.

“During those years, I learned the importance of communicating and sharing information in real time during both sudden-onset and complex emergencies, and how critical reliable and timely information is for decision-making during the response”, she says.

Ms. Trassari still remembers her work in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008. She was working around the clock alongside her team to ensure that humanitarian reports were available online in real time.

“Humanitarian responders, donors and partners were counting on us to access real-time updates and I truly felt that my contribution as UNV was incredibly important at that particular moment. At any time, I was feeling part of a great team and even if I was only a UN Volunteer, my work was as valued and appreciated as anyone else’s”, she recalls.

In 2021, almost 130 UN Volunteers have provided essential support to OCHA in nearly 40 countries. Two thirds of these UN Volunteers are women, and 60 per cent are nationals contributing to OCHA’s work in their own countries. UN Volunteers are an essential resources to deliver on OCHA’s mandate, ranging from supporting the coordination of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela to assessing unmet gender needs and gaps in Zimbabwe, and to analysing and visualizing complex data in Ukraine.

Ms. Trassari says that she continues to uphold the strong values that were instilled in her during her UNV experience with OCHA: dedication, passion and solidarity.

“These are values that continue to resonate with me today, 17 years later, as I continue my career in OCHA with the same passion and enthusiasm I had then”, she says.

After working in New York and Panama, she has continued in many different countries and settings, including the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Haiti and Dakar, Senegal, among others. 

She adds: “I can definitely say that the UNV programme opened the door for me to the humanitarian world as a professional aid worker.”