MY World in Bhutan: an inspiration to become active citizens and volunteer

Text and photos by UNV/Riikka Suhonen

Riikka Suhonen, from Finland, has served as international UN Volunteer in Bhutan, advocating for the recognition of volunteerism as a vital component of the Post-2015 development agenda and its implementation mechanisms. As part of her assignment, Riikka organized an advocacy campaign on youth volunteerism for Post-2015 with support from UNDP Bhutan and the Bhutan UN Resident Coordinator’s Unit. From May to June 2014, the campaign raised awareness on the UN and the Post-2015 process among young Bhutanese and promoted youth volunteerism for development in Bhutan.

Yonten, student at the Royal Thimphu College, collecting MY World votes from fellow students.
Yonten, student at the Royal Thimphu College, collecting MY World votes from fellow students.

“MY World proved to be a good way to introduce the theme of Post-2015 to young Bhutanese and to connect it with volunteerism as a way to become active citizens”, says Riikka. “In ten days, our two-member team visited three secondary schools, three colleges and one vocational institute covering five districts in Central and Eastern Bhutan”, she adds. “Students, particularly those involved in volunteering clubs such as scouting, environmental, or social service clubs, were invited to join our interactive workshops. The Royal University of Bhutan and a local NGO, the Tarayana Foundation, helped to connect with teachers in these different schools and institutes”.

After filling out the ballot, participants were asked to select their top priority –“good education”, for the majority – and think about how they as volunteers could help address that priority. “Student volunteers came up with very diverse ways to address the development priorities they had identified, such as helping elderly or children with less financial means, giving free tuition classes, planting trees and disposing waste properly, educating people, promoting organic farming, and solving problems by taking collective action together. For college students, we also explained how the MY World survey works and encouraged them to gather more votes from their community”, Riikka explains.

Kencho Dorji, 22, Bhutanese youth volunteer who co-facilitated the workshops of the Post-2015 advocacy tour, and Wangdi Phuntsho, 22, one of the active volunteers for the MY World campaign in Bhutan.
Kencho Dorji, 22, Bhutanese youth volunteer who co-facilitated the workshops of the Post-2015 advocacy tour, and Wangdi Phuntsho, 22, one of the active volunteers for the MY World campaign in Bhutan.

Wangdi Phuntsho, 22, was one of the active volunteers who coordinated the collection of MY World votes in his college, the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse. After the post-2015 workshop in the college, seven student volunteers reached out to different people in the village – friends, neighbours, monks and shopkeepers – to involve them in this global discussion on people’s development priorities.

Wangdi believes that MY World is a good way to raise awareness on the work of the United Nations and on the sustainable development goals, although it requires special efforts to be communicated, for example, to illiterate people.

“I feel that the MY World survey gives an opportunity to people to share their views on development challenges and potential solutions. People expressed their gratitude for getting the chance to have their say through such an important survey. Also, decision-makers can better understand the real scenario at the grassroots level and plan accordingly”, Wangdi explains.

After this experience, Wangdi was even more motivated to volunteer. “MY World creates the space for youth volunteers to realize their roles in a rapidly changing world. We got to understand and feel the pain of local people as we interacted with them. It really inspired us to volunteer and help finding solutions for the difficulties faced by our community”, he notes.

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Humans of MY World – Sharing the Stories Behind the Global Survey

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After traveling to 15 countries across 5 continents, Humans of MY World (HOMY) returned to New York to share MY World stories with the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014. The UN Millennium Campaign distributing postcards with HOMY images and stories. Several events also showcased large-scale Humans of MY World prints.

A photo-narrative project launched in April 2014 by the UN Millennium Campaign, HOMY aims to highlight a variety of personal stories from participants of the MY World Global Survey. MY World voters share the rationale and stories for choosing their top priorities – the personal experiences and philosophies which led them to select their priorities for a better world.

“Humans of MY World is a powerful reminder of what global development is truly about: improving the daily lives of individual people around the globe. Humans of MY World brings further life and nuance to the groundbreaking data being collected by the MY World 2015 campaign,” said UN Millennium Campaign director, Corinne Woods. ​

Their travels have thus far taken them to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Turkey, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Rwanda and Iceland. The cultivation of the content has been supported by a number of UN Country Offices, as well as UNHCR and UNDP.

In mid-October, HOMY began a partnership with UNHCR Rwanda to capture stories in Rwanda from two of their refugee camps there: Gihembe (population 15,284) and Mugombwa (population 6,850). HOMY now has nearly 30,000 Facebook followers and newspapers, magazines, and radio programs have featured the project. You can see the growing collection of HOMY interviews on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/HOMY2015

“UNMC is working hard to amplify citizen voices in new and innovative ways,” commented William Moore, UNMC consultant and HOMY photographer and co-founder.  “HOMY is just one part of that movement, but it is an important means of upholding our focus on the power of stories, and the wisdom of the human individual.”

HOMY also launched a 6-week exhibition at a popular coffee shop, Pennylane coffeehouse, located near the UN Headquarters in New York at 305 E 45th St. The exhibition lasts until November, so be sure to check it out if you are in the neighborhood!

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