Deva Dee Siliee

Daily Point of Light # 5364 Dec 5, 2014

On International Volunteer Day, Points of Light salutes the work of people doing exceptional volunteer work abroad to make the world a better place. Meet Deva-Dee Siliee, today’s Daily Point of Light honoree, and learn about her efforts in Curaçao to mobilize volunteers.

Her conversation about citizen action began around a coffee table in New York.

That’s where Deva-Dee Siliee remembers talking about what citizens could do to contribute to the sustainable development of her birthplace, the island of Curaçao, which had just achieved constitutional status as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A U.S. resident and Columbia University grad, Deva had traveled the world and seen in places like the Netherlands, France and Tanzania the common denominator she knew she could apply in Curaçao: people who wanted to help simply needed volunteer opportunities that were accessible.

She and her friend Lysayé de Windt had witnessed how New York Cares had made community service accessible to millions of people from all walks of life in New York, and thought, “it must be possible to make this happen on an island of 150,000 people”. They set out to create a platform that could connect citizen volunteers with community needs, modeled after the HandsOn network in the U.S. Together with Lysayé ,Deva co-founded Curaçao Cares in 2012.

According to Deva and Lysayé, “Through volunteerism, we want to foster understanding and facilitate crucial exchanges between citizens from all walks of life, in order to cultivate stronger communities composed of caring and committed citizens that put their time, skills, talent and resources to use to elevate the quality of life on the island.”

Within a year, some 4,650 people – including employees from nearly 90 different companies – volunteered with Curaçao Cares projects, helping with more than 100 unique projects, including the revitalization of a dozen schools on the island. All told, the 30,000 cumulative volunteer hours given is estimated to have contributed $500,000 in economic value to Curaçao.

“Our job is to bring people together,” Deva explains, “and I think we’ve been able to bridge some gaps and get people from all walks of life connected through our various projects.”

The effort has even attracted attention from Curaçao’s policymakers, starting more dialog about national volunteer policy. Curaçao’s largest volunteer effort, CURA DOET, similar to national volunteer days in the United States, received support from the Minister of Social Affairs.

Asked why people should volunteer, Deva answers enthusiastically “Because change begins with you!”