The youth of The Gambia and the United States of America under the banner of Service For Peace - Side by Side, Sunday launched a two-week annual voluntary services on the theme, 'Volunteerism, a key to sustainable development', at the Bakau Newtown Community Center.
The well attended launching brought together hundreds of volunteers, youth development stakeholders, and partners and was officially launched on behalf of the Nigerian high commissioner to The Gambia by the counsular officer, Madam Des Ogugua.
The initiative, which is coordinated and supervised under the leadership of Beverly Berndt fondly called Aunty Bev, is an annual programme that brings to the country young volunteers from the United States to work with their Gambian counterparts - Side By Side Organisation The Gambia, and Service For Peace.
This year, a total of 12 volunteers made it up to the summer services in The Gambia, and in the coming weeks, they will render the much needed humanitarian voluntary community services to diverse sectors in The Gambia; ranging from education, environment and health, awareness creation, amongst others.
Officially launching the two-week summer services, the consular officer, Madam Des Ogugua, said it is gratifying and heartening to see young people with this kind of foresight to embark on humanitarian services, a move she said is indeed commendable.
While calling on other youth organisations to emulate Side by Side and their counterparts, she enjoined them to continue nurturing the spirit of volunteerism, as it is key to sustainable development. She concluded by assuring of her office's support to these initiatives.
The leader of the volunteer team, Beverly Berndt enunciated the words of John F. Kennedy, who stressed that citizens should ask 'what they can do for their country and not what their country can do for them'. This, she said had inspired a lot of young people.
Aunty Bev also spoke at length on her personal experience as a youth at the time and the inspiration that motivated her to venture into volunteerism. She went on to indicate the commitment put forward by the volunteers from the US in making it up to The Gambia for this year's services. The young volunteers, she added, put lot of efforts on fundraising to come to The Gambia just for the service; a commitment she greatly applauded.
Aunty Bev also harped on a lot of issues including character education, which she underscored as very significant among the young people. She pointed out that young people must not be allowed to lose their social values, emphasising that self respect is important for them to stay on a positive path.
This, she added will reduce their chances of involving in negative things like drugs and other social vices. She underscored that the United States of America is working on the spirit of "live for the sake of others," thus expressing her desire for such a positive attribute or character to be inculcated in Gambians.
Speaking earlier, the national coordinator of Side by Side Organisation The Gambia, Hatab Fadera, recalled that in 2005 his organisation, formerly the United Youth Association, was introduced to the work of Aunty Bev and the Service for Peace NGO for a partnership in various areas critical to development.
Since then, he explained, the organisation, together with its sister youth body, the Service For Peace based in Sukuta, receives annually volunteers from the United States of America to renderthe much needed services to diversed sectors in The Gambia.
"With the principle of "living for the sake of others" as taught by Aunty Bev, the volunteers during this period work with their Gambian counterparts to execute well meaning programmes; such as clean up services to public outlets including heath facilities, visit to schools to render free extra moral lectures, known to us as character education, training, seminars on a range of critical subjects like peace building, reproductive health and rights, cultural and talents promotions; just to name a few," he indicated.
Fadera underscored that these programmes are well structured and designed to empower people and make a difference on the lives of the community they serve. "Another important part of this initiative is the fact that the summer service provides a better opportunity for social interaction and cultural exchange, as well as the building of lasting friendship between the youth of The Gambia and the United States of America.
This goes a long way to enhance social and cultural integration of the world that is gradually becoming a global village", he stated.
Expounding on the importance of the theme, he said even though volunteerism is a global phenomenon, its potential to help in meeting desired sustainable development goals is yet to be fully recognised. He concluded by thanking Aunty Bev for her untiring commitment to helping humanity and to all who in one or the othercontributed in making the launching a success.
The country representative of the Universal Peace Federation, Ebrima Jadama, who spoke earlier, expressed delight at the initiative, which he said is a step in the right direction;that it will go a long way in complementing national development efforts. He commended Side by Side, Service for Peace and their US counterparts for coming together to embark on voluntary work. "Living for the sake of others is the only way to address many vices in the society," he stated, while commending the work done at the RVTH by the volunteers.
Also speaking at the occasion, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Side By Side Organisation, Omar Dibba, thanked the volunteers for the partnership, describing itas a step in the right direction. Dibba then underscored the importance of volunteerism as an agent to bring about change to the lives of the people, and commended the volunteers for being committed to the cause.
Dibba, a programme officer at Gamcotrap, hailed SBSO for the bold step taken in ensuring that the organisation is sustainable. He informed the gathering that among many actions taken by the organisation is the development of their Strategic Plan, and the expansion of their activities beyond Greater Banjul Area.
He said Side by Side is committed to addressing vices affecting young people in the society, thus applauding them for their commitment to serving humanity. He concluded by pointing out the need for capacity building and human resources development for their programmes and the sustainability of the organisation.
The Service For Peace coordinator, Cherno Cham, joined his counterpart in applauding the move. He revealed that a line up of activities are set aside for implementation during the course of the two-week programme, while expressing delight for his organisation's involvement.