Young volunteers spark civic engagement


Before Anita Ilyas, a United Nations Volunteer in Lahore, Pakistan, began conducting a quiz, she expected that few of the participating students would have been motivated to read through the readings on civic engagement that she and her fellow volunteer had provided. She was in for a surprise. As the questions came, every student gave correct answers. By the end of the quiz it was a five-way tie. “We were all so surprised to see that our future generation was so well informed and have enough knowledge about their country and the systems of the country,” says Anita.

As one of 36 United Nations Volunteers in Pakistan, Anita provides civic education to youth and people from marginalized communities in Lahore. Born in Islamabad to parents who had only completed their higher secondary school certificates, Anita is aware of the opportunities for education and participation she has been given and wants to pass these on to others.

After matriculating, Anita won a gold medal for Islamic knowledge. She is now preparing for two bachelor’s degrees – one in education and one in library science. When the opportunity to apply to become a UN Volunteer arose, she seized it immediately. “As I am a social activist and a prospective teacher I thought it would provide me great exposure and enhance my profile. I had a great interest in the project so I decided to join and be a UN Volunteer.”

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In this capacity, Anita runs a session on Active Citizen Engagement at the University of Education, where she is also pursuing one of her degrees. With help from classmates, she sets up an activity for 110 students, and delivers a presentation on the rights and responsibilities of a citizen, including voting. This is followed by a series of role playing exercises to drive home the importance of informed voting for both women and men. Finally, she takes questions.

Anita and her colleagues in the UN Volunteers have conducted a series of similar sessions attended by thousands of women, men and young people, from every walk of life. By providing civic education and encouraging all citizens to cast their vote in the next election, these young people are helping build a more engaged society. Anita herself sees volunteering to be a crucial means of engagement for young people. From a personal perspective, it has given her important skills such as time management that will serve her in her professional life. Moreover, she says, “Young people must volunteer for the betterment of the society. Young people are an asset of every society and can make a difference and play their role more enthusiastically.”

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