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United Way Blog

Volunteers Build Resilient Communities

From the California wildfires to Guatemala's volcanic eruption, earthquakes in Indonesia, and flooding in Japan, 2018's natural disasters claimed thousands of lives and injured or displaced hundreds of thousands more. Can these communities bounce back?

According to recent research, the “silent killer” after a disaster or shock to a community is a lack of cohesiveness. Resilience relies on cooperative spirit. The United Nations’ State of the World’s Volunteerism Report proves how volunteering can sow the seeds of resilience in people and their communities.

Rich or poor, large or small, urban or rural, communities can bounce back from adversity when volunteers come together for the common good. Volunteers’ own capacity to self-organize contributes to resilient communities because the more they rely on each other, the less dependent they are on outside agencies' help.

The power of volunteers is worth celebrating. Today on International Volunteer Day, we recognize all those who make their communities stronger. And there are more of us than you might think. More than 1 billion people volunteer globally, often under difficult circumstances. The time they spend volunteering equals that of 109 million full-time workers.

The day Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Rohini Swaminathan and five other geospatial specialists from across the world volunteered through GISCorps to scan and map data showing whether the island’s health centers were damaged. “Getting this kind of information at the right time can fast-track recovery efforts and even save lives," he said. "It also gives me a way to use my technical skills meaningfully and be part of a bigger picture.”

On the other side of the world, more than 1,500 corporate volunteers are supporting the Mission Mangroves campaign, led by United Way Mumbai, in anticipation of natural disasters to come. The effort aims to restore Mumbai's depleted mangrove cover, which serves as a protective shield from floods, cyclones and tsunamis. More than 50,000 trees have been planted, with plans in place for 50,000 more over several years.

A strong volunteer ethos and network is vital to a cohesive, resilient community. Whether you volunteer in the aftermath of a disaster, or to make everyday life better, today is your day. Thank you for making the world a better place!