Our campaign for International Volunteer Day (IVD) 2017,

“Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.”, celebrated worldwide on December 5, is a recognition of the positive solidarity of volunteers around the world who answer calls in times of crisis, helping save lives today and supporting those who want to continue living their lives with dignity tomorrow.

 #VolunteersActFirst

In partnership with the Ministry of Disaster Management (MoDM) Sri Lanka, UNV Sri Lanka supports the Sri Lanka Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (SLCDMP) in addressing climate change adaptation and in strengthening community resilience for disaster risk reduction.

SLCDMP (2014-2018), developed with the technical assistance of UNDP, aims at ensuring the “safety of Sri Lanka” by reducing potential disaster risks and impacts on people, property and the economy. It serves as the primary framework for Disaster Management while enabling multi-sector and multi-agency interventions at the national, district divisions and Grama Niladhari levels.

V-Force Active Citizens For DRR  

A group of 30 individuals gathered into the conference room at the United Nations Compound on Thursday the 14th of September in lieu of the Active Citizens Workshop – a pilot project between the British Council and V -Force volunteers to provide training and essential knowledge to volunteers who are willing and able to initiate social development projects in their communities.

Volunteerism is an aspect ingrained within the social fabric of Sri Lanka, particularly given its commitment to achieving sustainable development. Therefore, the ability to mobilize volunteers at a moment’s notice during humanitarian, climate related or another crisis is vital. The youth in Sri Lanka have displayed an affinity towards volunteerism and community development, going on to initiate projects aimed at improving the quality of life within communities, as well as responding during the recent flooding and landslide related disasters. The Active Citizens Workshop aims to provide a firm training to enable youth volunteers to better utilize their abilities to engage within the community on a broader framework.

After an introduction and icebreaker, the first session of the workshop focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and an active response therein, and an introduction to the Sendai Framework and identifying and responding to a variety of disasters in various circumstances.

Many of the participants had prior experience in disaster response, or a basic idea of what it entailed. This was particularly evident given Sri Lanka’s increasing and intensifying risk to natural disasters. Given the context of the recent disasters, most of the workshop focused on problems caused by heavy rainfall causing severe floods and landslides, leading to the loss of lives, property and other assets. Therefore, the foundation required to carry the discussion forward was set. Participants were further introduced to the Disaster Risk Management Cycle (DRMC) giving a basic formula denoting pre-and-post disaster stages and the recovery stage.

The participants learned of the Sendai Framework to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, which was the first framework post-2015 introduced towards the development agenda, and includes seven global targets and a comprehensive set of guides towards, not only reducing the impact of disasters but also addressing the underlying causes of disaster risk and safeguarding current and future development gains.

Looking at sustainable development from the perspective of the SDG’s participants were encouraged to identify strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of those in the society, and apply their ideas to the SDG’s from the perspective of the Environment, its conservation, and reducing the impact of disasters. Most, if not all the concepts presented were comprehensive and viable ideas to engage society and improve its circumstances.

A recurring theme in DRR was communication and how to develop and effectively use it to mitigate disasters, thereby limiting the aftermath of any disasters. In addition to this, adaptation strategies, policy alternatives and ways in which to engage with all stakeholders, particularly in a time of crisis was explored.

During the second phase of the workshop, a role-play simulation was enacted where participants were divided into groups and played out the roles of villagers, volunteers, the divisional secretariat and local NGOs. This provided valuable insight as not many are aware of the unexpected nature of disasters, and the importance of flexibility and out-of-the box thinking required on part of community leaders, volunteers, and those engaged in disaster risk reduction services to respond accordingly. Only through such a framework could disaster situations be mitigated, adapted and responded to effectively.

The primary take-away was the disaster management and sustainable development can be achieved more effectively through the grassroots and actively engaging with the community. As a volunteer, we could approach our communities and discuss policies which have been made with the community in mind, and analyze if it served its purpose, and if not, speak to the elected officials and move towards a more beneficial change. There are many tools available to a community, and a bottom-up response and suggestions could lead to national policies.

Equipped with this knowledge, including those gained over the course of 7 days, these volunteers, now divided into several groups will now go out to their communities. The groups based at the Universities of Colombo and Peradeniya have taken steps to inspire and encourage volunteerism within universities, as well as build a network of volunteer organizations. Meanwhile, the groups based in provinces – primarily the Western, Central and Eastern provinces – will consider pressing problems within their regions and present project proposals to initiate community and social development projects addressing the same. The primary task of all groups is to create sustainable and impactful projects to better the community and improve their disaster resilience through active volunteerism with guidance and mentorship provided by V-Force and the British Council.

 

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