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UN Volunteers: Stories from the field

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James at a Stand-by Partners Public Information Officer training in Iceland in May. Credit: James St. John Cox
Humanitarian workers talk about their start as volunteers.

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.

James St. John Cox

I have been volunteering in one capacity or another for four years now. I started in the Maldives, offering my professional experience with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to help with setting up a local television and radio station. I then joined the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) programme and was assigned to the School for Broadcast Media in Indonesia. Working with teams of hungry young journalists taught me the meaning behind jargon like ‘capacity building’ and ‘knowledge transfer’, because I saw the results in action.

As my AYAD assignment came to a close, I interviewed for a UNV posting with OCHA Indonesia as a Reporting Officer. While I had no humanitarian experience to speak of at that stage, I certainly had the training and experience needed as a writer, and was quickly able to adapt to the unfamiliar language of the United Nations, thanks to the support of my Head of Office, my Indonesian colleagues, and from members of the reporting unit in Geneva and New York, who made themselves available to me as I found my feet.

OCHA has always made me feel that every opportunity to enhance my knowledge and experience was available to me, and with the encouragement of my colleagues, I have participated in UN training courses in Sweden, Iceland, Thailand and Indonesia.

After only seven months with OCHA, I applied for the Emergency Response Roster (ERR), which supplies staff for immediate deployment to emergencies. I became the first UN Volunteer ever selected for the roster. It was a great honour to be sent on a six-week surge deployment to Sudan in 2011; I hope this has set a precedent for future OCHA UNVs to join the roster.

I am now a Humanitarian Reports Officer with OCHA’s regional office in the Asia-Pacific, where I have the exciting opportunity to gather information and tell stories about 36 nations and territories to a global audience.