ABU DHABI - The first international symposium on developing a 'culture of volunteering' in universities and schools across the country was held in the capital on April 29.
Organised by the Emirates Foundation's volunteer programme Takatof, the symposium, titled 'Learning from the International Volunteer Experience', featured international delegates including senior educational officials and social activists, who stressed that volunteering is a critical aspect of an active civil society.
Delivering the keynote address on university involvement, Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told delegates: "Volunteering adds a different dimension to learning: it helps students apply what they've learned in their classrooms and become contributing members to their societies."
Minister of Education Dr Hanif Hassan announced that a new student volunteer and community service programme has been initiated in the country, in collaboration with Emirates Foundation's Takatof and the Ministry of Culture.
"This now forms the basis for volunteer service activities in all our schools. The philosophy of the programme is to encourage students to make a personal investment in the wellbeing of others, to accept their civic responsibilities and to develop environmental awareness," said the minister.
The specialists who attended the symposium included philanthropist Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant-Governor of Maryland, the USA, and a board member of the 'Points of Light' Foundation, Liz Burns from the UK, former world president of the International Association for Volunteer Effort, Patricia Nabti, president of Lebanon's Association for Volunteer Services, and Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way of America.
Brian Gallagher stressed that young people should be given opportunities to assume leadership positions and influence the decision-making process of voluntary organisations, as their passion and commitment are necessary for the success of society.
"Civil society will thrive if the three pillars of society, represented in business, government and voluntary organisations, play equal roles as no segment of the society is complete without the engagement of the others," said Gallagher.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Professor at Georgetown University in the US, said teachers need training in order to raise the awareness of their students regarding issues in the community and get them actively engaged in voluntary activities.
Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, managing director of the Emirates Foundation, commented: "In partnership with both education Ministries, we shall use the results of this symposium to review the "state of the art" in educational volunteering worldwide so that we can determine which models and best practices are most suitable for the nation."