Bhubaneswar: As the world gets ready to celebrate International Volunteer Day on 5th December, Mu Volunteer celebrated its 1 year journey on 2nd December at a Sharing Event at the Hotel New Marrion in Bhubaneswar. The theme of this year’s International Volunteer Day is VolunteersActFirst recognizing the importance of volunteer action at the time of emergencies and underscoring the importance of collective efforts of volunteerism.
Odisha, which has borne the brunt of natural disasters but has also demonstrated remarkable volunteerism during disasters, has been seeing an attempt to make volunteer action more effective and better coordinated through the initiative called Mu Volunteer.
Mu Volunteer is a platform created by Bakul Foundation, a movement for volunteerism in Odisha and UNICEF, which has been in the forefront of advocacy for protection of children’s rights worldwide. Mu Volunteer is an attempt to create a community of young changemakers and an attempt to celebrate the volunteer in us by bringing different youth volunteer groups and young volunteers under one common platform.
The main attraction of the sharing event was a unique Exhibition in which the photo stories of 25 young changemakers was displayed and the audience could interact with the changemakers there. These changemakers had been part of the Mu Volunteer Leadership Journey, which included a leadership workshop, which facilitated an intense self-exploration to understand one’s beliefs, values, biases etc. and also to understand how one’s values in a way shape one’s weaknesses. This triggered a better understanding among the participants of what stops behaviour change from happening and how one can change that. In the process, the changemakers emerged as better leaders
This included 11 tribal children from Koraput, who had said, “No” to child marriage, and who had taken up the challenge of ending child marriage in their communities. After participating in the leadership journey, they realized the power of their youth group and used it to tackle other social evils such as stopping the sale of alcohol in their village for 2 months which Nayana, Kuni, Kunti and Rita achieved.
The changemakers included 5 who have worked on the issue of Sanitation in Odisha in villages such as Mitu Swain, Manmath Pal and Ajay Parida from Kandigaon village in Ganjam, who had acquired name for making their village ODF. They now took up the challenge of making nearby villages ODF, particularly the challenging village of Thekuapalli, which was quite large and had a sizeable SC and ST population that could not afford to contribute for toilets.
There were also 14 changemakers representing different youth groups in Odisha such as Patang, NYKS, WE4You, Ashayein etc. Aparajita Mohanty from Bakul, who had used her wedding earlier this year to set up a children’s library in Chandrasekharpur in Bhubaneswar worked on increasing readership. And now, the library space appears less as there are more children than it can accommodate and these children come and read and participate in activities showing little interest in TV or gadgets, something heartening to hear in an age where children do not read.
The changemakers were felicitated by Ms Chithra Arumugam, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Women and Child Development Department of Odisha and Ms Yumi Bae, Chief, Field Office, UNICEF Odisha. Ms Yumi Bae said that UNICEF was lucky for the opportunity to work with these exceptional young men and women, who have demonstrated action in the field directly and highlighted the importance of small changes within oneself. Ms Chithra Arumugam applauded the changemakers for taking up such difficult issues such as ending child marriage or reducing school dropouts, and said acts of volunteering were the most noble acts as they are done for a greater good without any material returns. She urged Bakul and Mu Volunteer to also address the issue of safety of women and children online and saw the power of this collective of young volunteers to possibly address it.
The other activities as part of the Mu Volunteer initiative such as the engagement with youth on social issues through social media, the youth meets organized to give the volunteers the sense of a physical community, and the various campaigns organized engaged different groups of youth such as photographers and schoolchildren was also shared through the Photo Exhibition and testimonies from some of the participants.