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Today the United Nations turns 73

In its seven decades of work it has prevented conflicts, delivered life-saving humanitarian aid to millions and improved the lives of the poor in all corners of the world.

It came into existence in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, when 50 countries united with the common goal of preventing such a conflict happening again. They made commitments to maintain international peace, develop friendly relations and promote human rights.

And between then and now, it’s largely worked.

Fewer people have died in conflict in the first decade of the 21st century than any decade of the 20th. The UN won the support of every country - minus the US, which has dropped out since Trump came into power - on their landmark climate change agreement. And they brought war criminals involved in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda genocides to justice.

But the crux of the UN’s work is a shared vision in ending poverty. In 2015, the UN launched their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – or ‘Global Goals’. The 17 goals cover everything from good health to climate action to peace building, with tough targets for every country to achieve by 2030.

It’s now been three years since the SDGs were launched. But how much impact have they had?

We caught up with three ICS staff members across the world to find out what difference ICS volunteers are making – and how their projects in livelihoods, education and health are helping ensure the SDGs will be achieved.

Sonia has worked for ICS since 2015. She believes any small action can be development
© Restless Development
Sonia has worked for ICS since 2015. She believes any small action can be development

Livelihoods

“2,500+ sessions to give young people the knowledge to get ahead in the workplace’

Soniya Shrestha
Programme Officer, Restless Development, Nepal
Joined ICS in 2015

“For me, the SDGs are the milestones that enable us to attain the ideal world that we desire. The goals give us direction towards achieving the highest standards of living in an equal and just world, free of inhumanity and the burdens of poverty that we face today.

“In the communities where we work, many households are below the poverty line and even getting two meals a day for families is a challenge. It has an impact on the young people, as they’re missing out on a quality education and are looking towards the Middle East and India for work to support their family. Young people don’t see opportunity here.

Since 2015, ICS volunteers have run more than 2,500 sessions with students
© ICS / Suraj Ratna Shakya
Since 2015, ICS volunteers have run more than 2,500 sessions with students

“Since 2015, ICS volunteers have run 2,604 school sessions for young people aged 12-16 on livelihoods knowledge and life skills to help them work out whether they want to stay in education or start earning. They’ve worked with young club members to give them the knowledge to be able to find jobs, better opportunities or make self-employment more profitable.

“Development is the process when someone or something grows and becomes better than what it had been. Any small action can be development if it brings about positive change in the life of beneficiaries. It’s a continuous process of change. Immediate results can’t be expected.”

Noor, 10, has Down’s syndrome. He's been supported in a special needs unit by ICS volunteers
© ICS / Jeff deKock
Noor, 10, has Down’s syndrome. He's been supported in a special needs unit by ICS volunteers

Education

“Finding and supporting children with disabilities to access a better education”

ICS Project Officer Majina enjoys helping marginalised people identify their needs
© Majina Mwasezi
ICS Project Officer Majina enjoys helping marginalised people identify their needs

Majina Mwasezi
Project Officer, VSO, Kenya
Joined ICS in 2012

“The SDGs are actions aimed at solving problems. Actions to end poverty, protect the universe and ensure that all people live in a cared environment in harmony and prosperity.

“In Kenya, people with disabilities are being left behind because they’re not aware of how to get involved in society and because they’re being forgotten. Children with disabilities still face a lot of sigma – especially in the rural areas – and are being hidden by their families, meaning they miss out on the quality education they deserve.

“Over the last three years, ICS volunteers have helped identify children with disabilities and organised training for the teachers to learn how to better educate young people with special educational needs. They’ve run sessions with 4,063 10 to 18-year-old students on girl’s rights and networked with the local government and other NGOs working here to fight for a better education.

“Development means for me working with marginalised people to help them identity their needs, and show them how to use the resources around them – sometimes physical and sometimes human – to solve their needs.”

Raleigh M&E officer Sashi speaks with an elderly woman while volunteering with ICS
© Raleigh International
Raleigh M&E officer Sashi speaks with an elderly woman while volunteering with ICS

Health

“Building 96 toilets in the wake of the earthquake to stop disease spreading”

Sashi Thapa
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Raleigh, Nepal
Joined ICS in 2016

“The SDGs are what we need to achieve a sustainable future. It provides the guidance we need to address existing issues of poverty. It’s a clear direction for individuals to act collectively, so we can ensure that we protect the planet for current and future generations.

“At the root of many of the problems in the communities where ICS volunteers work is the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015. When the earthquake struck, people in rural areas were affected the worst. In many communities the earthquake damaged crucial water infrastructure, like water tanks and pipelines, meaning that access to water was drastically reduced."

An ICS volunteer teaches about water and sanitation in a school
© Raleigh International
An ICS volunteer teaches about water and sanitation in a school

“Since 2015, ICS volunteers have worked on projects supporting people suffering in the aftermath. They’ve worked alongside skilled masons and local people in 43 communities to construct 96 toilets, 382 handwashing stations and 19 drinking water systems, as well as training over 1,300 people on good hygiene practices which will be passed on to future generations.

“And the impact continues to grow even after they’ve left. In the community of Kaliban in the district of Makwanpur, the community-led water committee installed meters on each household tap to collect a small tariff from each house for using water, which then goes into the maintenance and operation of the water system. This system helps keep infrastructure in good shape.

“Development is the path towards a decent means of living, where everyone has access to good health facilities and quality education. When development is successful, our environment is nurtured and protected. When global development is successful, we will live in a fair world.”

Share your stories of change with the UN

Are you a UK volunteer? The UK government want to find out how your projects contribute to the SDGs