Malaysia A 'Fertile' Ground For Volunteerism

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By Nur-ul Afida Kamaludin

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 (Bernama) -- Aug 19 is World Humanitarian Day and is dedicated to aid workers who risk their lives in order to save people affected by crises around the world.

That date was designated as World Humanitarian Day by the United Nations in 2008 to commemorate a terror attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug 19, 2003, killing 22 people.

Every second, minute and hour, scores of volunteers are involved in humanitarian missions that reach out to millions of helpless people, regardless of their nationality and which part of the world they are in.

The true essence of volunteering can be found in a person's passion to help others in a purely voluntary manner and in all sincerity. In other words, passion, willingness and sincerity are the three basic qualities expected of a volunteer.

If someone is willing to expend his or her energy irrespective of the nature of the humanitarian cause, then he or she is aptly qualified to become a volunteer.

One may have the necessary attributes but how many people out there are really willing to volunteer their services?

IN LINE WITH RELIGION

Islamic Relief Malaysia (IRM) chief executive officer Zairulshahfuddin Zainal Abidin said volunteerism ought to be blended with the element of compassion as this was in line with the principles of Islam, which expects its followers to emulate the prophets when performing good deeds.

Pointing out that the spirit of volunteerism in Malaysia was 'fertile', he said IRM often received offers of help from people who want to be involved in its aid programmes either in or outside the country.

Since its establishment in 2005, IRM has been busy mobilising its efforts to conduct induction courses throughout the country in its quest to create a breed of knowledgeable and skilful volunteers, based on their background and expertise.

"Not all people are able to dedicate or commit themselves full-time to voluntary work. So, IRM is using the creative and flexible approach to encourage them to be involved in our programmes.

"If they are not able to be present at the locations where our missions are located, they can still contribute by sharing their expertise with us and enable us to continue organising volunteerism campaigns or humanitarian missions," he said.

And, if they have the financial means, they can help by contributing funds which would then be channelled to needy organisations, he said, adding that IRM distributed aid to some 30,000 people in Malaysia every year.

AN 'INDUSTRY'

Zairulshahfuddin described volunteerism and humanitarian deeds as an 'industry' with its own management, finance, operations and line-up of experts whose aim it is to create a more caring world where communities are empowered, social responsibility is practised and societies unite to alleviate the suffering of others.

And, the fact that there are some 65 million refugees worldwide makes it all the more compelling for this 'industry' to be handled efficaciously, he added.

On IRM's work in Malaysia, he said it deployed its volunteer teams at areas struck by natural disasters in the hope of mitigating their impact on the local communities.

In the event of a calamity, IRM will mobilise its human resources and funds through its three-pronged approach – that is, act fast to assist the victims; assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of victims; and assist them to become self-reliant.

"IRM also mobilises other resources and forges strategic partnerships with various agencies, including the media, for the purpose of local capability development based on Islamic values to help all needy people regardless of race and religion. Our objective is to help them until they are able to stand on their own feet," he explained.

Like its parent organisation the United Kingdom-based Islamic Relief, IRM has an active presence in 40 countries in West Asia, Africa and ASEAN region, where it has missions assisting poverty-stricken communities or victims of conflicts.

WIDE PLATFORM

Journalist Syed Azwan Syed Ali, who actively participates in humanitarian missions, said volunteerism grew at a rapid pace in Malaysia after non-governmental organisations (NGO) sprouted up, thus expanding the platform for Malaysians to volunteer their services.

"Volunteerism in general means doing charitable or humanitarian work without getting paid. The majority of volunteers contribute their time, energy and money towards voluntary activities carried out by the NGO of their choice," said Syed Azwan, who had returned home recently after participating in a humanitarian mission in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who had fled Myanmar are camping.

He said the young generation, especially students fresh out of university, and those in the 35 and above age group are more inclined to take part in humanitarian and voluntary activities, with these groups dominating the voluntary workforce and the older ones serving as facilitators.

Whilst covering international issues, conflicts, disasters and humanitarian matters as a reporter for a media company, Syed Azwan found himself drawn to humanitarian work.

He decided to focus on humanitarian work after it dawned on him that he could use his 14 years of experience in journalism to highlight issues pertaining to humanitarian causes, refugees, conflicts and disasters in the media.

Intending to be a media expert specialising in humanitarian issues, he hopes to help NGOs, organisations or individuals to fulfil their goals of delivering aid to marginalised groups, including refugees.

"The Rohingya issue, for example, is now considered less important and this comes one year after (the refugee crisis hit a peak and) they flooded Bangladesh... it's my responsibility as an activist and freelance journalist to speak up for this marginalised group," said Syed Azwan, who is now actively involved in humanitarian missions conducted by Mercy Malaysia and Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

He has also participated in humanitarian missions and covered conflicts and disasters in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia, France, Greece, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia.

CHALLENGES

Admitting that many challenges had come his way, particularly when trying to gain access to conflict and disaster zones, he said not all the missions he had participated in were successful.

"Since 2008, I have gone on seven humanitarian missions to Gaza (in Palestine), as well as to write special reports, and these included two trips via sea routes. However, we only managed to enter Palestine during our missions in 2010, 2012 and 2014," he said, adding that volunteers working in a conflict zone were also at risk of being hit by stray bullets and getting caught in a crossfire.

Volunteers serving in disaster zones and refugee camps are also at risk of contracting diseases. In Cox's Bazar (Balukhali camp and Kutupalong camp), for example, more than 650,000 Rohingyas are languishing in the overcrowded camps.

In view of the challenges that await volunteers, it is imperative for them to attend a two-week intensive course organised by the NGOs concerned so that they are physically and mentally prepared before embarking on their humanitarian mission in a conflict or disaster zone, said Syed Azwan.

"Being in a conflict or disaster zone teaches us, volunteers, to contribute in whatever way we can in terms of our capacity. A doctor can help to treat the refugees, an architect can help build shelters, an engineer can bore wells, while a writer/reporter can help to convey their story to the world to create awareness and invoke action," he added.

COMMITMENT

In truth, many people possess volunteering traits but are unaware of it. More often than not, their volunteering spirit comes to the fore spontaneously when an accident or disaster like a fire or flood occurs in a nearby area.

Aid on a large-scale basis is distributed via humanitarian missions or programmes undertaken by government departments, agencies, organisations or associations that have a certain number of permanent volunteers.

Volunteers must have a deep interest and show a high level of commitment towards the work they are involved in.

They must exude confidence and always be ready to serve, as well as be proactive and creative and have the ability to manage relief and humanitarian efforts at a disaster zone.

The important thing to know is when one wears the volunteer's hat, it is not for financial gain but to serve worthy causes that benefit needy groups.

It is crucial for volunteers to act responsibly and perform their duties sincerely as volunteering can be taxing and requires a great deal of physical and spiritual resilience.

Translated by Rema Nambiar

-- BERNAMA