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Conference aims to promote volunteerism in Saudi society

Jeddah hosts International Youth Conference on Volunteering and Dialogue

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The view of volunteerism for youth in the Arab world as a mere pastime or an optional activity to be done in free time is no longer valid and is quickly fading.

It is about time for volunteerism to gain importance in the Arab world and to be correctly understood for its real purposes, empowering youth to improve their own lives and the lives of others in their communities.

Young men and women have time, energy, brilliant ideas, and creativity; it is time to harness these gifts and channel them for the well-being of societies.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Jeddah was chosen to host the International Youth Conference on Volunteering and Dialogue this year, bringing together hundreds of young volunteers from all over the world to share their experiences and learn from one another’s success stories.

The three-day conference, which began on December 3, witnessed partnerships between active young men and women who attended the conference, from within the Kingdom and from Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Nigeria, Greece, and other regions.

The youth also developed plans to draw support from governmental organizations, the United Nations programs, NGO’s and the private sector, to sustain their activities.

Through a series of workshops, the conference provided opportunities to improve the younger generation’s involvement in volunteering, peace-building, humanitarian assistance, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, and responsible citizenship.

The event was jointly organized by the Ministry of Education, the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue, and UNESCO.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, the Minister of Education, were impressed with the vast array of youth volunteer societies that are successfully established in the Kingdom whom they met during the conference and exhibition.

Bokova was introduced to those who are dedicated to serving the guests of Allah on the pilgrimage, other groups who work on training and skills development for youth and women, and those who provide mentorship and social support to orphans, and a group of students at King Saud University who provide health care services to families living in remote, rural, and disadvantaged areas. Speaking to enthusiastic young volunteers, Irina Bokova said: "You are not the subjects of change or just the beneficiaries of government programs offered for you.

"Rather, you are the agents of change, of social transformation, peace, cultural dialogue, and sustainable development of your communities.

"You are great leaders with the greatest ideas."

Bokova said: "We are at a time when the world is calling for peace, empathy, inter-religious respect, and appreciation of diverse cultures. Societies across the globe are more connected than ever before. You are the thinkers, the problem solvers, and advocates for peace and justice."

Historically, volunteers have accomplished surprisingly outstanding feats, have brought on positive change, and have demonstrated their role in making the world a better place.

It is young volunteers who first drove the environmental movement and brought the attention of global leaders to the dangers of climate change.

It is young volunteers who organize health awareness campaigns, who develop educational outreach programs for underprivileged children, and who are there to provide humanitarian assistance in times of crises and natural disasters.

"Through this conference and several future initiatives, we aim to promote volunteerism in Saudi society, support young men and women in their aspirations, and open up more opportunities where they can contribute. Volunteerism boosts self-confidence in their own abilities, improves work ethics and financial literacy, builds a sense of social-responsibility, and offers ways to forge bonds between people based on trust, respect, and cooperation.

Through their work, the young men and women are correcting false stereotypes that exist in our society,” said Faisal Bin Abdul Rahman Bin Muammar, Secretary General of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue.

"The UNESCO and the country of Saudi Arabia share a common objective, and that is to make this world a more peaceful place," said Bokova.