Staff from UNDP Volunteer in the Classrooms of Cairo

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Despite the physical proximity, the neighbourhood and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices can feel like two different worlds. But now four national UNDP staff members are making an extra effort to connect to the people in their “backyard”. Rania Hedaya, Mohamed Adel, Riham Mustafa and Shahdan Niazi have signed up as UNV volunteer associates with the Injaz (‘achievement’ in Arabic) programme and spend an hour each week teaching at the local Boulac Preparatory Girls School.

 

The Injaz programme provides an outlet for private sector companies to give back to their communities, as well as giving the individuals involved what is often their first experiences of community service. Most importantly however, volunteers in the programme pass on to students skills to improve their creative thinking, problem-solving ability and, primarily, their job opportunities.

 

Save the Children started the Injaz initiative in Jordan in 1999 and brought it to Egypt in 2005, in partnership with UNDP and UNV. Initially, employees from large companies such as Barclays, BP, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble, and Shell were involved; now UNDP staff themselves are participating.

 

“UNDP Egypt saw it clearly; staff volunteering is good for the community, good for those who volunteer, and good for the organization itself,” says Eva Otero, the UNV Programme Officer in Egypt. “This type of corporate volunteering brings new, needed resources to a much-marginalized community right in the backyard of our office.  It is a source of additional time, talent and energy for Save the Children and the Injaz programme.”

 

The volunteers each take charge of a class of around 20 girls, ranging in age from 11 to 15 years. The class lasts for an hour, with preparations for the class taking another hour. Volunteers do not need teaching experience or credentials, but are given a training session before beginning their volunteer activities, which take place during working hours. Materials covered in class can range from life skills, CV writing and interviews, to basic business concepts.

 

While each volunteer is Egyptian, they bring a fresh perspective on the world outside Cairo.

 

“Actually, I was very nervous when I first went in,” admits Riham Mustafa, who works as a Communication Associate with UNDP. “I didn’t know what to expect. But the girls there are very polite. They are very intelligent and they are eager to learn. You can really see their eagerness and curiosity to learn.”

 

“For those people, maybe they had heard of the UN before, perhaps on TV,” she adds. “For them, the UN is in New York, it’s not in Egypt and it’s not only 5 minutes away from them.

 

The involvement of staff was encouraged by Elissar Sarrouh, Deputy Resident Representative, who called for an initial group of four volunteers. As Otero points out, “Volunteering expands opportunities for UNDP staff volunteers to develop work-enhancing skills and to practice leadership and management in ways they may not be able to exercise in the workplace.”

 

Mustafa concurs, “To me as a person, it’s very important. It’s given me satisfaction and it’s giving me a role in my country and in my community.” She feels that other staff members may come on board in the future, “because we come back very excited and very enthusiastic.”

 

“This to me is the beauty of Injaz,” says Otero. “Not only what the UNV volunteer associates do for the children but how the children change them forever, giving a new meaning of what it means working for the United Nations.”

 

“It is no exaggeration when I say that that volunteering with Injaz was definitely one of the best things I have ever done in my life,” says Niazi. “I feel like I’m contributing, and in a direct way, to the community. Seeing the reactions of the girls makes the whole exercise extremely rewarding.”

 

Niazi adds that when one of the weekly Injaz sessions was cancelled due to the Easter break, the girls from her class suggested that they meet outside the class room and conduct the class normally.

 

So, for Mustafa what is the primary motivation for being involved with the project? "Definitely we’re bridging the gap. It’s making a bridge between the UN and the people".

[1] This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

The author of this article works as the Web and Internet Analyst, Communication Unit at the United Nations Volunteers Programme Headquarters.

 

 

 

 

 

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