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National Volunteer Month: Making April a Month of Meaning

Volunteers are so important to global progress that the United Nations specifically calls for governments to involve volunteer groups in advancing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. So it’s a good thing that an estimated 15% of adults volunteer—and there are real benefits for those who do.

Volunteering can expand social connections and boost mental health, with volunteers less likely to be lonely or depressed.  It also can improve physical health, with lower blood pressure and even increased lifespan. It’s an overall “win” for the volunteer and society.

Hawa, a community health worker in Mali, has the power to change her community for the better.

So, this April, which is National Volunteer Month, we’re celebrating everyone who dedicates their time to serving a purpose beyond themselves. From community health mobilizers to creative fundraisers help others, volunteers are transforming communities around the world through individual and collective action. Here are just a few of the many examples that inspire us.

A Warm Welcome and Hot Meals for Ukrainian Refugees

Aurelia Istratii and her husband live in Palanca, Moldova, a small town near the Ukrainian border. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with 20% of the population living in poverty. Before the war, Aurelia volunteered in a local community center, helping children with their homework after school. After the war broke out, with the help of Action Against Hunger, the shelter became a vital place for the refugees who crossed the border through Palanca each day–at one point numbering nearly 2,000 people every day.

Aurelia worked tirelessly to cook hot meals for refugees, particularly women, children, and the elderly, each day.

Going above and beyond her role, Aurelia and other volunteers even crossed the border to deliver food to those waiting in line to cross into the safety of Moldova. “They were very confused, they didn’t know anything about their future,” Aurelia recalled. “They needed food, water, and shelter. It was very hard, and many were freezing.”

Today, at the community center-turned-kitchen-and-shelter, Aurelia continues to dedicate her time to providing a warm welcome and hot meal for the 30-40 Ukrainian refugees who continue to arrive in Palanca daily.

Chef Tatiana Bondarciuc and Aurelia Istratii cook hot meals for Ukrainian refugees.

“In Moldova, we are lucky that our sons and daughters are not experiencing war,” she says. “I can’t even come close to understanding or feeling what it’s like for mothers whose sons and husbands are still in Ukraine, in the war,” Aurelia said.

But, if hostilities in Ukraine increase and the number of refugees spikes again, Aurelia and other volunteers like her will be ready.

Youth Advocacy for Nutrition in South Sudan

In South Sudan, Action Against Hunger empowers youth champions to create the future they want to see for their country. More than 70 young people from different ethnic groups have signed up and come together to learn the tools to advocate for change.

Action Against Hunger's youngest activists raise awareness during International Youth Day 2022.

Some are still in high school, others in university, and some are working to earn a living in the country’s challenging economy. With advice from Action Against Hunger, they also analyze their government’s budget and work to hold elected officials accountable for prioritizing efforts to reduce hunger and support sustainable development.

The volunteer organization is well-structured, with an elected president, treasurer, and even a social media maven. For example, on World Water Day, the group ran a social media campaign to raise awareness of the role that clean water and sanitation plays in promoting individual health and community development. They called on their peers to lobby elected officials to prioritize water-related issues.

A young speaker addresses a crowd of youth volunteers. The event was hosted by Action Against Hunger in 2022 in Juba, South Sudan.

Denish Ogen Rwot, Communications and Advocacy Manager for Action Against Hunger in South Sudan said, “Roughly 74% of the population in South Sudan is younger than 35. If we want to influence the trajectory of our country, we need to engage its youth. If we fail in everything else, we should never fail to influence young people, since they are writing the future of this country.”

U.S. Volunteers Fundraising for the Future

Across the U.S., millions volunteer every day. We’re particularly grateful for the many who volunteer to reduce food insecurity in their local communities as well as those who raise funds and attention to improve the lives of people around the world.

High school students from the First Church youth group in Simsbury, CT did a 30-hour fast to raise funds for Action Against Hunger. They exceeded their $5,000 goal and raised more than $7,000!

For example, instead of wedding gifts, Rob and Sonja asked for donations so Action Against Hunger could help more children grow up strong. Aisha Haynie Smart, not only serves on the Action Against Hunger board, but celebrated the holidays by raising much-needed funds. Anya, Eleanor, and other middle schoolers in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, ignited awareness about global hunger at their annual social justice fair. And Consensus Sales employees each traveled 10K in some form of exercise–and over-achieved the collective goal to log 1000 kilometers and trigger a $10,000 company donation for Action Against Hunger!

In today’s interconnected world, there are many ways to have an impact. We’ve seen artists hold fundraising auctions, cyclists raising money each mile, gamers level up for good, and families run flea markets for a better future.  In fact, Action Against Hunger’s Fundraising Toolkit is not only chock-full of ideas, it’s one of the most visited pages on our website.

Since September 2019, Shane Trotter has biked for Action Against Hunger. He has raised $6,000 and won two world ultra-cycling competitions.

While some question the difference one person can have, even small acts can be powerful. When it comes to fundraising, consider that just $20 can buy a fuel-efficient stove, which can keep women and children safe from the violence many experience while out collecting firewood and allow them to devote time to other tasks.

It also reduces air pollution, which is responsible for nine million deaths each year, while promoting health by making it easier to cook nutritious meals. That’s just one example. A hygiene kit to promote sanitation during emergencies costs just $25. And lifesaving therapeutic food for severely malnourished children is just $150 for a full course of treatment.

We’ve long known that opportunity begins where hunger ends. This April is a time to remember that sometimes it starts with a volunteer.