Island News

Call for action against poverty

Written By : Source: United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and United Nations Development Programme. The International Volunteer Day for social and economic development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations
27 Nov 2010 12:00

image Written By : Source: United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and United Nations Development Programme. The International Volunteer Day for social and economic development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through resolution A/RES/40/212 on December 17, 1985 and is globally celebrated on the 5th of December.
This year the theme is “Volunteering for the Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs). The United Nations Volunteer(UNV) programme in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) takes a look at how United Nations Volunteers from around the globe, especially, those from the south are sharing their knowledge and experiences with people in the Pacific region. Below is a story about a UNV Volunteer serving in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Her name is Maria Cecilia de Azevedo Sodre and she is from Brazil. She serves as the UNV Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Capacity Building Project Manager with the Office of Statistics, Budget and Economic Management, Overseas Development Assistance, and Compact Management (SBOC)
in FSM.

MDGs are everyone’s concern. “Achieving the MDGs requires the solidarity of people living in a country. It means being more collaborative and cooperative so that all actions transcends societal or national platforms to reach regional and global levels. These efforts must come from national governments,” says Cecilia.
In the case of FSM, Cecilia notes that combined efforts from the national and state levels, as well as, support from development partners is relevant for the implementation of the MDGs.
Community engagement she further elaborates is crucial to these efforts. One of the challenges discussed by Cecilia in meeting MDG targets is the need to expand the sense of solidarity and cooperation amongst communities.
“As you know in many Pacific island countries you have the concept of the extended families. So solidarity and cooperation already exists within the families. But you have to extend this sense of solidarity and cooperation to the communities in order to achieve better results for the MDGs.”
Another challenge mentioned by Cecilia is the need to sensitise leaders on how to address MDG targets in their respective countries.
For example, to increase student enrolment in schools, the quality of education has also to be a target for improvement.
However, given the high dependency on aid, this was a difficult issue to tackle when survival is based on daily needs.
Cecilia found that the discussions around the concept of poverty is a challenge given the prevailing perception of it being something that exists in a different region (Africa) but not in the Pacific.
She further added “Some definitely deny the existence of poverty in their society. I think it is one of the main and key challenges when you work as a volunteer in small countries and this is the case of FSM that is highly dependent on foreign grants and is not really self sustainable at the moment.”
Cecilia pointed out that workshops, small meetings and radio broadcasts are effective communication methods for increasing civil society awareness on the MDGs.
She further emphasized the need for MDGs to be part of a country’s planning and budgeting processes in order to have these advocated through government policies and programmes.

MDGs, Human Rights and Volunteerism
Cecilia believes that through voluntary actions, people can inculcate a sense of civic belonging where human rights become more visible in the society.
“There is a strong linkage between human rights and the MDGs. FSM representatives travelled to Geneva in November to attend the 9th session of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Group.
“They presented and discussed the country’s Human Rights Report. Representatives from Office of SBOC, members of the MDG Task Force and I helped to make the linkages between human rights and the MDGs for this report. MDGs are part of the scope of human rights which is exemplified by societal rights to education and access to health services.”
“Volunteerism also has an economic impact and can contribute to capacity building processes in countries where projects are being implemented. Volunteers can assist in capacity development of government counterparts that will lead to efficient monitoring of the MDGs.”
Cecilia is assisting FSM in producing its first National MDG report. In her current capacity as the Project Manager for the MDG Capacity building Project, she is also involved in monitoring and analyzing MDG indicators.
Incorporating MDGs into mainstream policies and programmes is one of the key challenges Cecilia has faced in helping to put together the country’s first MDG report.
“I would say that awareness on MDGs is an on-going process, you have to do it all the time. It is not because you publish a report that you start doing awareness. Involvement too, of NGOs in this process can help to address these issues at the community level.”
With regard to gender issues, Cecilia pointed out that “women in the FSM have achieved equality at all levels of education, but they are still relatively far from reaching better progress in the labour market. They face obstacles to get jobs and receive lesser financial remuneration in both the public and private sectors compared to men.”
“One of the things I have noticed is that there is already a lot of information existing in the country. What volunteers can do is to assist in the organisation of this information and make it visible for leaders in the country, region, and the world.
“The other thing is to assist statisticians set up indicators which I think is crucial in co-ordinating actions. For example, in conducting a survey the Departments of Statistics, Health and/or Education can and should work together.”

Working to eradicate poverty
“One of the contradictions on MDG 1 (Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger), is to make linkage between economic growth and levels of poverty,” Cecilia says.
She mentioned that one of the first things she noticed in FSM upon arrival was the limited awareness of civil society on the important role/partnership they played in achieving the MDGs.
“They [leaders] know that more people are leaving the country because they face hardship and cannot find jobs. More and more people leave to go and find jobs in Hawaii, Guam or other parts of the US, but they [leaders] don’t know exactly what the root causes are that that lead to labour migration.”
When asked how she viewed her role and contribution through the project, Cecilia responded “my contribution is to help them establish these linkages and to create more awareness of poverty. I consider I am helping in more at this stage for MDG 1 [eradicate extreme hunger and poverty] that is the linkage between the current economic situation affected by the global economic downturn and impact of limited employment vacancies and its consequences.”

UN Millennium Summit
In September this year, Cecilia was invited by the Government of FSM to join the delegation to attend the MDG Summit in New York. The Summit reflected on achievements of the governments who signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 given the 2015 deadline.
The Vice President, H.E. Alik L. Alik, spoke on FSM’s achievements in reaching the MDG targets at the Summit and also at the UN General Assembly.
Cecilia assisted in the drafting of the Vice President’s speech through the provision of information on MDG progress and through the analysis of how these have translated into actions in the medium term.
These were highlighted with statistical evidence and plans.
Cecilia noticed that the speech delivered by Alan Garcia Perez, President of Peru, resonated well with her because he addressed each MDG individually and provided statistics, some analyses and information on public policies and focused social programmes that have been currently implemented in the country.
She further added: “It was quite impressive to note the number of people they were able to pull up from the poverty line since 2001.”
She also noted the clear message passed by Barack Obama, the US President, in his address which asked countries to focus on development instead of dependency.
She thought this was particularly relevant for highly dependent countries on foreign grants.

What difference can volunteerism make in people’s lives?
Cecilia believes that volunteerism calls us to take action in our own individual capacities.
“The MDGs are not confined to particular individuals or groups. It is a combination of efforts and mutual co-operation; it is “everybody’s work” to help millions of people to be out of hunger and extreme poverty and to support them to break the cycle of poverty. Volunteers all over the world are making a valuable contribution towards the achievements of the MDGs.
“They play an important role of opening “eyes, minds and hearts” of people to the issues of poverty and hunger, causes of lack of decent work, inequality and deprivation of education and health care.
“Their focus on putting gender and environmental issues on the top of government’s development policy priorities and their contribution to include those who are neglected into the human rights agenda is a work that never ends,” she added.

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