The start of the vaccine roll-out! Of course, like everyone else, we are delighted and keeping our fingers crossed that all goes to plan and volunteers can start travelling again later this year. But that certainly will not mean the end of our e-volunteer programme.
When we started creating opportunities for people to volunteer from home during 2020 it was of course in response to the pandemic – could we find a viable and useful way for volunteers to offer genuine support to the projects we work with when no-one was able to travel? We soon discovered that yes, online volunteering is not only possible it is genuinely useful, and in some instances better, than the traditional model of volunteering. ‘This crisis hasn’t stopped our volunteers who always provide us with support from a distance!’ (Karima, our local partner in Morocco)
People who thought their volunteering days were behind them came back and told us how delighted they are to be able to make videos which can be used by the projects they once visited, even though they are in lockdown and shielding at home. ‘Having reached a big birthday last year I made the decision that I should retire from volunteering. Then the pandemic came along and ‘people and places’ asked people to make videos reading stories and demonstrating teaching methods. So far I’ve read three stories and made two Science videos, and my daughter makes a very good cameraman! It’s great to be able to contribute in this way’ (e-volunteer Yvonne). People who thought volunteering was a pipedream which could not be fitted into their busy lives have found they can easily find time for an e-volunteer placement which takes up just 2 or 3 hours a week for a few months, and have been able to build real friendships and share real skills with the people they have worked with online. ‘I think my most successful lesson was on English and Moroccan food: my pictures of typical ‘full English’ compared to Moroccan breakfasts elicited much discussion and learning of new vocabulary.’ (e-volunteer Linda). E-volunteering is clearly filling a real need – and don’t worry, we will certainly not be taking this opportunity away, even when we are all able to travel again in safety.
We need to consider our responsibilities, both to volunteers and to the communities where we work. Yes the vaccine should provide a good level of protection from the virus, but how many people will be ready to jump straight on a plane and travel to countries where health provision is unlikely to be as good as in their home country? How will we ensure communities with little formal health care are protected? We and our local partners will need to put rigorous health and safety measures in place before volunteers can return – but an e-volunteer placement carries no health risks at all! Why wait until it feels safe to travel, when you could start planning and preparing for an e-volunteer placement right now? You could always follow it up with a traditional placement at the same project later on – how exciting to get to know people and work with them online and then travel – it would be like visiting friends! ‘Starting an online placement in January would suit me well. I would not travel to Cambodia until I am certain it is very safe to do so. It is a plan for the future certainly though, a target to look forward to.’ (Paul, currently doing an e-volunteer placement with Cambodia).
Although the vaccine is supposedly being rolled out worldwide it is clear that richer countries are getting it first – it will almost certainly be several years before the mammoth task of vaccinating all vulnerable people in the developing world has been achieved. If we are vaccinated can we still carry the virus to others? This is a question that is being widely asked and which the scientists are researching, but it is far too early to know the answer to that yet. Our local partners are really looking forward to welcoming volunteers back. We don’t want to wait until all these health and safety questions are answered, and we don’t have to – e-volunteering means we can start working together again immediately and we can’t wait to see what we can all achieve through e-volunteering in 2021. ‘As we in The Gambia are working hard to adapt our very important tourism industry for the post Covid era it is important that we can continue to access the skills that ‘people and places’ volunteers share with us – even if they cannot travel to be with us. We look forward to working with you – a warm welcome awaits you!’ (Adama, our local partner in The Gambia).