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05-12-2020 10:11

Message by the Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organizations, Mr Yiannis Yiannaki, on International Volunteer Day – 5 December

International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development is celebrated every year on 5th of December as mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1985. This day offers all of us the opportunity to promote Volunteerism, encourage Governments to support voluntary action, and recognize the contribution of volunteers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SBAs), locally, nationally and internationally.

UN Volunteers, the United Nations Office for Volunteerism, conducts an annual campaign for International Volunteer Day. “Together we can, through Volunteering” is the theme chosen for this year, recognizing the positive impact that volunteers bring to the fields of peace and development to their countries, but also on a global basis. UN Volunteers invites us to take a moment to thank the volunteers and to “celebrate” their efforts, despite the huge challenges they face this year.

Today, when the pandemic engulfed the whole planet, volunteers are at the forefront of medical, community and social action. The World Health Organization's COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, identifies volunteers as key stakeholders in the effort to raise awareness and engage the community. This is recognition of the valuable efforts of one billion volunteers. However, recognition alone is not enough, because at the same time the well-being and health of the volunteers themselves must be ensured.

Cyprus, since the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in 2013, is one of the few countries in the European Union with a comprehensive policy framework for Volunteerism, Active Citizenship and Non-Governmental Organizations. In this context, both during the first phase of the pandemic in our country, and in the humanitarian crisis due to the explosion in Lebanon, voluntary action once again showed its value.

Our Office implemented the Emergency Volunteer Management Protocol, in which more than 1,650 people were registered (including many school and university students and unemployed youth), as well as organized groups and institutions. According to the Protocol, “volunteers who enroll in times of crisis are insured, trained and provided with specialized personal protective equipment”.

Also, two protocols were prepared specifically for the pandemic, the General Instructions and the Instructions for the Transportation and Home Delivery of Essential Items, with which the volunteers complied with dedication and discipline. We utilized about 850 people throughout Cyprus, activating the minimum number of volunteers with targeted actions, in order to reduce the spreading of the pandemic chain and to protect public health. Activation of the Emergency Volunteer Management Protocol and the Operation of Volunteers during the Pandemic Protocols, online training and overall coordination, brought about the impressive result of carrying out more than 8,000 voluntary actions in Cyprus.

Our country, with the successful implementation of the Protocol for the Management of Volunteers in Emergency Situations, emerged as a European Good Practice in terms of how it managed the voluntary offer. The European Commission congratulated the Commissioner for Volunteerism and NGOs, in letters from the Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Margaritis Schoinas, and the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Ms Mariya Gabriel, as well as from the Commissioner for Health of the European Commission Ms Stella Kyriakidou. We also received a congratulatory letter from the United Nations (UN Volunteers).

Additionally, the infrastructure of our Office was used in the effort to support neighboring Lebanon in the humanitarian crisis created by the deadly explosion. The Pancyprian Coordination Center for Humanitarian Aid Management and the Nicosia Volunteer House were utilized as campaign headquarters and The Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and NGOs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acted as coordinator of the campaign.  

Donations were collected at four regional collection points throughout Cyprus, sent to the Humanitarian Aid Management Coordination Center at the State Fair in Nicosia for sorting, and then with the support of the National Guard and the Civil Defense were placed in containers transported to Limassol port and shipped to Lebanon. In total, more than 240 tons of humanitarian aid was collected, thanks to the immense solidarity of the Cypriots, including citizens, companies, local authorities, the church, Non-Governmental and Voluntary Organizations and various other bodies. This was the largest humanitarian aid that Cyprus ever sent to another country, surpassing aid sent to the people of Lebanon by much larger countries. 

An important contribution to the whole effort was made by our volunteers, who for many days, in the midst of a pandemic and scorching summer heat, undertook the collection, separation, control and placement of items in boxes, to be ready for transport to Lebanon.

The above are great examples of the practical contribution of Volunteering in dealing with problems and emergencies, even in adverse conditions.

The main policy of our Office is to create a favorable and safe environment, which will further develop the field of Volunteering. With modern policies identical to European ones, the Republic of Cyprus, through the Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and NGOs, is emerging as a modern country for the sector, having created an integrated framework for Active Citizenship, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society.

Modern Volunteerism and Active Citizenship cover comprehensively all sectors of society and their role is equally important in all countries. Therefore, the Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organizations undertakes the formulation of our national policy, from local to international level.

On the occasion of the International Volunteer Day, we publicly express our gratitude and congratulate the volunteers of our country, as they selflessly contribute not only to dealing with crises, but also to the improvement of our society in general. Today’s active citizens lay the foundations and form the pillars for a brighter future for us all!

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(MG/II)