Volunteerism is not only a way of giving back to the community but also a way for young people to get involved in local change that will affect their future.
This is why the promotion of youth volunteerism is one of the principal objectives of our efforts to engage young people more actively in community-based development projects.
What does volunteerism mean for young people in Uzbekistan?
Answers to this question fall into two broad camps.
- One group of young people believes that volunteerism is about exploitation through unpaid labour. These young people see few incentives to get involved, unless there’s a chance to improve their employability.
- The other group, however, believes that volunteering is about altruism, inspiration and giving something back to one’s community.
We work with both groups to make sure that the skeptics get a chance to have a more positive experience of volunteering and that the group who are already motivated stay active and continue to reap the benefits of their hard work.
A major part of our efforts to engage young volunteers in Uzbekistan in 2013 was to run a mini-grants scheme supporting volunteer groups with innovative community development ideas.
To give you an idea of how this all worked out, we’d like to share the story of Sherzod Islamov and his initiative, Mohir Hunarmand (School of Craftspeople) which is creating employment opportunities for young people with disabilities.
One of the major stumbling blocks to the success of volunteer initiatives is the tremendous bureaucracy that must be dealt with before moving forward. This is especially the case in Uzbekistan, where even small-scale initiatives require endless permits, official letters and other paperwork.
But not this time!
Sherzod (second from right in photo) showed amazing perseverance while dealing with officials, finding partners, and approaching dozens of craftspeople to request their participation in his project.
The results of his dedication are impressive. Starting with just one school for young people with disabilities, Sherzod was able to unite the Trade and Commerce Chamber, the Handmade Association (Ladoshki.uz), the Craftsmen Association, and also seed funding in the form of a mini-grant from UNDP and United Nations Volunteers (UNV).
Now, adolescents from two schools are learning to make handmade products which can be sold on the market. On 22 December, Sherzod and his team participated in a large-scale exhibition of handicrafts (in Russian), where they presented and sold their handmade goods to visitors of the exhibition.
After an agreement between UNDP and the supermarket chain Korzinka.uz, the products made by these young people will now be displayed on dedicated shelves for social goods in Uzbekistan’s largest chain of grocery stores. This opens up employment opportunities for young people and many other workers in social enterprises.
Sherzod’s achievement demonstrates how the creativity and perseverance of volunteers, given the right support, can lead to tangible, positive change in the lives of others.
Volunteerism without age limits!
Sherzod’s experience also shows that volunteerism does not have age limits, in contrast to the common perception in Uzbekistan that volunteerism is something for the young only.
For instance, Dmitriy Sorokin (fourth from right in photo) is a teacher at a school for young people with disabilities. Even with his full-time responsibilities, he was enthusiastic about participating in Sherzod’s initiative and now volunteers his time by taking four students from his school to a workshop every Tuesday to teach them how to produce handmade goods.
“I have worked many years for the Ministry of Public Education and several schools. I know young people and love to spend time with them. When Sherzod came to me with his project proposal and asked me to teach, I decided to volunteer and accepted this as an interesting challenge.”
Dmitriy Sorokin, teacher
Can you point us to any examples of inspiring ways to encourage volunteerism?