The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. And the world of volunteerism is not an exemption. The nonprofit sector can also be considered one of the hardest hit because it heavily relies on manpower.
Unlike in other areas, though, there are two sides to the same coin. First, about two in three volunteers decided to minimize or stop contributing time to volunteer efforts because of the pandemic.
Second, because of the same health crisis, calls for volunteerism increased. In an encouraging show of solidarity, a federal government’s call for citizens to help the National Health Service (NHS) has seen an upsurge in volunteer signup to up to 500,000 people within 24 hours.
We know the value of volunteerism. Sadly, the pandemic has forced us to stay at home and do social distancing from the others. If you’ve been volunteered for an environmental NGO in the Philippines like One to Tree, for example, you’d know the feeling of not being able to help no matter how much you wanted to.
This doesn’t mean you should stop doing volunteer works at all. Even at home, we can all do so much more. Here’s how.
We cannot force traveling—at least until the restrictions are lifted. So the next best thing is to look for volunteer opportunities that are closer to you. It may be the church or the local organizations, most of which are still doing food packing and distribution to the frontliners.
There is also value in volunteering where you live, work, or frequent. When we volunteer within our neighborhood, we can immediately see the fruits of our contribution. Such a scenario is a positive reinforcement that compels us to continue and sustain our volunteer efforts.
Ask around. Connect with the other volunteers in your community. Chances are, you’ll find an organization that offers various tasks and activities that you can do.
For example, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) partnered with local government units (LGUs) and the Metropolitan Cebu Water District for its #HUNAW handwashing campaign. It specifically looked for individuals and organizations who can help in amplifying the campaign at the neighborhood level.
We can help in various ways, such as ensuring that our neighbors contribute to keeping the hunawan stations in tip-top shape, that is, if the organization set up a station in your place. If the hunawan trucks are deployed in our area, we can help in mobilizing the people. For one, we can be stewards who ensure health protocols are followed.
Remember to volunteer for activities that you enjoy or are passionate about. That sounds cliche, but we don’t want to engage in activities that are forced on us. This is how we sustain volunteerism. Otherwise, we won’t find any peace or security in what we do—we’d only feel emptiness.
On a personal level, we want to keep engaged. This is only possible by figuring out certain activities that bring joy to our lives. If there’s no spark, then find something else.
We, Filipinos, are emotional volunteers. We give back and show appreciation based on our experiences or the lack of them. For example, if we had no one beside us to read bedtime stories when we’re younger, we tend to find a reading program that allows us to do storytelling in front of children. It’s therapeutic, and it fills the experience gap in our lives.
When we first volunteer, we had this scary feeling. We fear that other volunteers may not welcome us, that we may be as productive as other volunteers, or that our efforts will not be appreciated. Those feelings are valid.
Know, however, that places that accept volunteers are warm, welcoming, supportive, and appreciative of new members. They welcome whatever help we can give. So don’t worry too much about this.
If it helps, get a buddy and volunteer with him or her. It makes the activities more manageable and more enjoyable. Make sure that your friend is on the same page as you, though. We don’t want to impose on someone else what we want to do with our lives.
If not with a buddy, befriend other volunteers. This is another good thing about volunteering—it’s a place of cooperation where long-lasting friendships are built.
Don’t forget that the pandemic is still here. So practice caution. Aside from social distancing, bring with you a facemask, face shield, and alcohol or sanitizer. Always remember that when we protect ourselves, we are also protecting others.
It’s not just the education and business landscapes but virtually all sectors that the pandemic affected negatively. Doing some, if not most, of the core activities digitally has been the workaround.
Several nonprofits are looking for experts to talk about their expertise and experience, including the challenges they met along the way. Indeed, all these organizations need is a voice that can talk about perspective, intellect, wisdom, and more. This is how we humanize the volunteer experience at the time of the coronavirus pandemic. We have a voice and a face behind that voice—not just mere avatars.
If you don’t know where to start, think of the nonprofit organizations that you support pre-pandemic. Ask them what virtual activities they have and join the cause. You need not become a speaker—being a webinar attendee, who shares insights about what is happening around us or anything relevant to the topic, is equally important.
Other ways to help are sending virtual cards to frontliners and CoViD-19 survivors. If you have a knack for drawing, you may join the #ArtforMedPH commissioned by Art PH. It’s a donation drive wherein our fellow Filipinos may send their art requests to the artist in exchange for any amount. Donations are sent through a link. Everything is done online, so you need not worry about going out and mingling with other artists.
The bottom line is we need to look into ourselves to determine how we can help in our little way, tapping into our creative interests and capabilities. Also, the simplest act of sharing these initiatives, even if you lack the creative skills, can help find the right people for the task.
If there are no organizations or activities within the neighborhood, we can always initiate.
You may set up donation drives for facemasks, face shields, gloves, alcohol, personal protective equipment (PPE), etc., and distribute them to the local hospitals. Medical institutions are in dire need of these essentials.
In line with RAFI’s campaign, we can go from household to household to distribute personal kits, especially among the children. We want to make sure that they can also protect themselves by knowing how to wash their hands properly.
Speaking of children, they are among the most vulnerable groups, and their anxiety can be invisible. For one, our children need to attend online classes. In ensuring that their optimal health is in optimal condition, we must keep them engage. Creative endeavors can help with this.
We may solicit books, comics, and art kits to distribute to our neighbors with school-aged children. Some living in the most impoverished areas may need gadgets to continue with their online learning. We can also match donors with beneficiaries.
Other volunteer endeavors worth undertaking are:
We have so many options for volunteer initiatives. We just have to be creative about it. Also, it does not have to be an original concept.
What good’s about volunteer works is its replicability. If one campaign works in one neighborhood, then other communities are highly encouraged to do the same.
Pre-pandemic, we’ve been very busy with work and doing volunteer works on the side or whenever we have the time to spare. Now that we’re staying at home, we can devote more time to our backyards and gardens.
There’s a reason for the renewed interest in backyard farming and gardening that gave birth to halamoms, plantitas, and plantitos. More than the aesthetics, it’s for sustenance.
You can go around your neighborhood to give talks about the value of tree planting, particularly growing native trees; practicing waste segregation; using organic products, and many more.
With this, the transfer of knowledge and skills that you’ve learned before is critical in keeping the spirit of volunteerism alive and kicking. Don’t keep them to yourselves. Share them with others.
True, they say that it takes a village to raise awareness. In staying at home and making your time more worthwhile, you can start building that village one household at a time, one volunteer at a time.