Volunteering is a relatively new concept to Kurdish society. Most people are not particularly keen on the idea of putting a lot of time and effort into something that they will not get paid for. But while doing something for free may not help you to feed your family at the end of the day, it is food for the soul, and can be an extremely rewarding experience.
This is a point that people tend to miss. As a result, we should teach students from a young age about the importance of volunteering. In addition to fostering an individual’s spiritual and moral growth, the act of volunteering helps to add an element of harmony and goodwill into society. When someone receives an unprompted act of kindness, he or she will be more willing to do the same for someone else in the future. As this spirit of goodwill spreads from one person to the next, so society will start to strengthen and develop.
At this crucial stage in its history, after decades of war and turmoil, Kurdistan is in great need of a new ethos of generosity to help build a better future for its people. Because the concept of volunteering has yet to take root in Kurdish society, we need to start teaching about its importance in school. By doing so, we can help to create a new generation that is willing to help and serve society, and that is interested in things other than just material gain.
Students from the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH), and a number of other institutions in the region, have adopted a pioneering role in promoting the idea of volunteerism, reaching out to help disadvantaged or underprivileged local people. Baxtiyar Goran, a member of the UKH Hope group, is one such student. “I’m very happy volunteering to help my fellow citizens,” he says, “I see it as a duty for people to help build a society where everyone can live happily side by side.”
At UKH, there are signs that volunteering has become in vogue, with students increasingly helping out in various organisations both on the university campus and beyond. Two student charity groups have now been formed; the first, UKH Hope, comprises a number of dedicated volunteers who aim to give a helping hand to underprivileged neighbourhoods of Erbil by raising money and collecting unwanted second-hand items.
The organisation has carried out a number of successful fundraising campaigns, and the proceeds have contributed to a visible improvement in the living conditions of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. “Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly active with voluntary organisations,” explains Baxtiyar, “[but] the most important work I have done so far is helping to run UKH Hope.”
Sunshine, meanwhile, is a charity that works with orphans, providing educational and artistic support for local children. Although it was only officially formed last year, its members have been active collectively since 2009. The group currently has around two dozen volunteers, who arrange weekly visits to an orphanage in Erbil where they help children with their studies, and organise a range of extracurricular activities.
Sunshine’s fundraising campaigns have collected considerable donations through social media, with Facebook posts and tweets raising the group’s profile both at home and abroad. The money that has been raised has helped fund the children’s transportation, clothing, stationary and recreation.
“By volunteering with Sunshine I’ve felt like each day has been an achievement,” says Simon Hanna, one of the group’s members. “It has made me a better person, and made me value the things I have in life, and not be selfish.” According to Simon, voluntary work also helps people to become more sociable. “We are all humans, and we should always stand by each other’s side,” he argues. For Hawar Majeed, another of the group’s members, it is rewarding to see the children happy and benefitting from the project’s work even if, as he points out, “it’s only visiting a small group of kids once a week.”
And it is not just students at UKH who are embracing this new spirit. At nearby Salahaddin University, I Care was formed in 2012 to help out at a nursing home in Erbil. Group members make regular visits to the nursing home, and organise activities including film screenings and trips to the local parks to entertain the residents.
According to Saya Akram, a pharmacy student and the head of I Care, volunteers are driven by a passion and sense of determination. “The sense of satisfaction you experience when you see the difference you’ve made to someone’s life is the best reward you could imagine,” she explains. For Saya, helping out at the nursing home is a way of showing that she values and respects the older generation. “They have lived through the history we were taught about in school, and the least we can do is show them a little more appreciation, support and care, and to try and recreate a feeling of home and belonging for them,” she argues.
With students across Kurdistan increasingly turning to volunteering, and setting an example to the coming generation about the importance of giving without taking, there are encouraging signs of a more generous and socially-engaged future for the region. With the ethos of volunteerism gaining a more significant role, we can hope to build a society that is concerned with issues such as justice, equality and peaceful coexistence, rather than one that aims solely at personal advancement.