“Samoa’s volunteerism is deeply ingrained”

Samoa hosted International Volunteers Day this week, with none other than the executive director of the United Nations Volunteers Program Olivier Adam, and the Asia Pacific regional manager Shalina Miah.

The Samoa Observer sat down with Mr. Adam to understand the state of volunteering as he sees it, and where Samoa is doing well. 

And according to him, Samoa has volunteerism values already deeply ingrained, supporting community resilience in the face of natural disasters and economic shocks.

“There has been a lot of community volunteering that has enabled Samoa to keep a very vibrant community able to deal with the aftermath of cyclones immediately, before any external support can come in,” he said.

He would like to see how the United Nations can continue supporting this already strong structure.

“I think that structure of decision making in villages is very important here and we should work with that to structure it even better, from understanding the priorities, to giving support as the United Nations family through our volunteers to work with these communities and giving them skills that they sometimes don’t have.”

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Around the world, volunteering can vary. Mr. Adam said Samoa doesn’t have the issue of “forced obligations.”

He said under more constrained government environments, what is called volunteering is in fact forced labour, and doesn’t necessarily even meet the priorities of the communities.

Where countries do set volunteering priorities, there should be close collaboration between governments and the volunteering agencies, Mr. Adam said.

“What’s important for us is for the community to identify their problems and then ensure they work on a set of problems they identified.”

“There should be close collaboration between what organised volunteering is and local governments or municipalities or, as in the context of Samoa, the village decisions that are made by the matai and the village.”

“That goes for projects like restoration of coral reefs damaged by various overuse, to beautification of villages or initiative to rebuild schools.”

While some countries would benefit from policy and legislation to enable volunteers to be effective, Samoa does not appear to need this.

Mr. Adam said he doesn’t see any impediments to volunteering here, but rather the opposite.

“On the contrary, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister really want to enforce volunteering, and ensure that volunteering happening on the community level is more intertwined with the volunteering happening with outside volunteers, so that outside volunteers are more integrated into social fabric, because this is sometimes challenging.”

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