“Volunteer in UNYA – Get involved, take action!”, says the UNYA Denmark website. Farzaneh moved from Norway to Aalborg in the summer of 2023 to pursue her master’s studies and followed that call for action. The 23-year-old student of International Relations at Aalborg University is a UNYA volunteer and takes further action in her current position as Manager of the Peace and Justice Working Group at her local branch UNYA Aalborg.

In her position, Farzaneh brought together other volunteers interested in the overall sphere of “Peace and Justice” for thought-provoking discussions and organised a movie screening of the documentary “5 Broken Cameras”. 

What is “volunteering”?

The International Labour Organization defines volunteering as “non-compulsory work performed for others without pay”. For Farzaneh the key is indeed helping people, spreading awareness about injustice and global as well as local issues and building a just, inclusive and peaceful community: “Discussing relevant and current issues, hearing different perspectives and sharing experiences – that is what inspires me in my volunteering and motivates me to take further action.” Like-minded people coming together for her is not only “non-compulsory work” but also a fun way to spend her free time by engaging in meaningful debates and getting to know many different people. 

With that inspiration and will, Farzaneh is not alone. According to the 2022 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, a report supported by the UN, almost 15% (or 862 million people) worldwide engage likewise by volunteering and hence spending their time and resources for a common good. 

The Involvement of civil society further is a central piece in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The 16th (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17th goals (partnership for the goals) acknowledge the importance of action taken by civil society. By embodying this mentioned vitality of collaboration as outlined in SDG 17, volunteers exemplify the transformative power of grassroots action and can prove that collective efforts at the community level are instrumental in realising a more sustainable and equitable future. A future, which is further built on the collective efforts, visions and ideas of young people. With the Summit of the Future 2024 in New York, the UN plans on incorporating younger generations into the processes of future shaping. 

Read more about the goals of the Summit in one of the latest articles of this blog here

Whilst political engagement of young people is a necessary driving force for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals and hearing their demands and visions, many youngsters keep their distance towards associations such as UNYA. “Sometimes not as many people as I hoped for show up to the events I organise, but that is part of voluntary work”, knows Farzaneh, but shePeace does not lose any of her motivation and passion: “Every voice counts and I want to spread the word and make every voice be heard!”

“The experiences of my father opened my eyes”

Having long-reaching experience with political involvement, Farzaneh understands why young people might feel disconnected from political institutions. Rather than being demotivated by this perceived political apathy, the working group manager only works harder to build a community by adjusting her planned activities to the target group. Evaluating events, adjusting the agenda and providing new ideas, Farzaneh speaks from many previous experiences: The political sphere and activism are no unknown territory for the 23-year-old. Before moving to Aalborg, Farzaneh advocated for a human rights organisation back in Norway and for many years used her time and energy to make her voice heard but also spread the words of others. 

Political activism runs in her family. “My father was a political activist in Iran. His experiences of living in a regime of oppression and what that means for political activism opened my eyes. Since then, I knew I wanted to be engaged in politics and work on my visions.”

Being a newcomer to Denmark and Aalborg, Farzaneh heard about the branch of UNYA through her classmates in the master’s programme. Being strongly interested in questions of peace and justice in the context of international conflicts and having the vision to build the aforementioned just, peaceful and inclusive community of people in her new town Aalborg, Farzaneh not only joined the branch as a volunteer but took on responsibility as the manager of a working group. 

The Agenda of the Peace and Justice Working Group of UNYA Aalborg

Besides this community building, educating people about peace and justice as well as advocating for fair and accessible institutions is on the agenda for her working group in Aalborg. “I don’t want to present a spoiler here and say a little too much but we have a few great upcoming ideas in the working group!”

In the pipeline, there is an idea for a UN simulation game, where young people take on the role of UN representatives to exchange ideas in order to solve current issues. “The issue might be related to questions of Peacebuilding and solutions to military or political conflicts, but we are still working on the details of our idea.” 

Further, the working group will be active in more local community building as Farzaneh plans on collaborating with other local civic organisations, e.g., in order to inform refugees about their legal rights. “As for now we are not as many active volunteers as I wish to address important issues and implement ideas, but I have great hope for the future and I am highly motivated!”

According to the current Flash Eurobarometer on the European Youth (a survey conducted in the EU during the European Year of Youth in 2021), only 25% believe that participating in a student or youth organisation is an effective way to make one’s voice heard. By taking action herself, Farzaneh wants to change that as “every voice matters and every voice counts!”