Nilab raising awareness on SDGs during the social event organised by UNDP Afghanistan. © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018

Imagine a situation where just going to school puts your life at risk.

Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, this was the situation for Nilab Aria and many others before 2001. In second grade, she had to be homeschooled by her aunt and mother. Nilab had been forced to wear a burqa since she was eight years old.

Today, Nilab is a United Nations Volunteer. Her passion for education and professionalism started back then.

Hidden from sight, and from the Taliban, she took short courses in English and Science in a basement, where she studied by candlelight. As an additional precaution, the students were forced to pretend that that they were taking Islamic studies, the only studies permitted under the Taliban regime.

One day, however, someone informed the Taliban, and the underground classes were closed for a time. The Taliban threated death to anyone who attempted to attend any classes. But that didn't stop Nilab. With the support of her parents, she continued to study at home.

Nilab is a United Nations Volunteer working with the finance department. © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018


 "My hero, my inspiration"

Recently, there was another difficult period in Nilab’s life. She lost her father. “Knowing that my father is no longer with us is the worst memory of my life. He was my hero and my inspiration.”

Her father died of a heart attack when he was in their hometown in Nijrab district of Kapisa province, helping his fellow villagers build clean water systems.

Nilab is the eldest sibling in her family. She has one brother and five sisters. After their loss, she is the sole breadwinner in the family.

“Right before he died, he called us and asked each of us one by one what he should bring us from our village.” She inherited her spirit of helping people from her father.

During the 1960s, when most people were highly conservative and had no interest on education, her grandfather was the first man in town to put her aunts and other family members through school.

It was a tradition in their family that a girl should be married by the time she finishes school, but her father had different views. He wanted her to achieve her dreams first, and be able to stand on her own feet.

Social event in UNDP Afghanistan where UNVs raised awareness on SDGs © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018
Nilab is a United Nations Volunteer working with the finance department. © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018
Nilab at his office desk in UNDP Afghanistan. © UNDP Afghanistan / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018


Unwavering Spirit for volunteerism:

While Nilab was pursuing her undergraduate studies, she also worked with a local NGO that works to end violence against women and sexual harassment. She worked during the day and attended university in the evening.

She has been volunteering since her school days. She did not think so much of the money she would earn, because her goal was to learn as much as she could and help to bring positive change and peace in Afghanistan.

In September 2017, she was successfully selected as an intern for UNDP. Her internship was later extended and she applied for a UNV post as Finance Associate with the elections project, UNESP.

UN Volunteers are highly motivated, qualified individuals, committed to the principles and ideals of the United Nations. They complement and strengthen the work of UN entities, public institutions and civil society organizations.

“As a UN Volunteer, you are not only contributing to peace and development, but also helping, caring, meeting new people, and there is an exchange of cultural values” says Nilab.

Today, International Volunteers Day 2018 focuses on the values of volunteerism through the appreciation of local volunteers, including marginalized groups and women, who make up nearly 60 per cent of volunteers worldwide, and their impact on building Resilient Communities.

“I am happy when I do something voluntarily. I want to help every single person if possible,” says Nilab.

“Doing something voluntarily keeps you down to earth and doesn’t give you an ego.” She adds.

Volunteerism is also an important vehicle for sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly recognises volunteer groups as stakeholders to achieve the 17 SDGs.

Many of the SDGs call for long-term attitude and behavior changes - for example, in the way we live together or in the way we consume. Volunteers facilitate change in mindsets by raising awareness and inspiring others.

My ambition is big, as big as the SDGs,” says Shugofa Ayub, a project officer UNV working on the SDGs. “Through our work as volunteers, I believe we can achieve it.”

104 UN Volunteers contribute to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Afghanistan. This include 20 National and 83 internationals. A total of 43 UNVs in UNDP, 1 in UNICEF, 1 with UNWOMEN, 68 with UN Mission, 1 UNFPA, and 1 with the World Bank.

Watch a 2-minute Video on Volunteers Spirit

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