In the six months since the pandemic struck a number of volunteers have been working with us to try out various ways of volunteering from home. Some had previously volunteered and were keen to continue supporting ‘their’ project in what were clearly going to be difficult times. Some had placements already arranged and were keen to start volunteer work even though they couldn’t yet travel. Some thought their volunteering days were behind them and were delighted to see a way of supporting volunteer projects that fitted in around their busy lives at home.
So what have e-volunteers achieved already, working from the comfort of their own homes, and how can we take this further in the coming months?
In Morocco we started with conversation sessions between house-mothers from the Education For All boarding houses and four volunteers – these sessions took place via Zoom once a week throughout June, July and August. By that stage the house-mothers’ confidence in speaking English had developed enormously and we had all got to know each other well – they were asking for more! So starting in September we reduced the whole group conversation sessions to once a month and paired up house-mothers and volunteers for weekly one-to-one English lessons – they were very clear – they don’t just want to speak English they want to understand how the language works, so those of us taking these lessons are mugging up on our English grammar! One of the deputy house-mothers has now asked to be included and a further volunteer has joined the group.
The boarding houses have now reopened so the next phase will be for volunteers to participate in some English lessons with selected groups of girls – this will begin in November. We already have one volunteer lined up for this but we need more – is this something you could offer?
Volunteer Linda says: ‘I am enjoying supporting Moroccan housemothers who work for Education for All. I met most of these women last year when I volunteered with People and Places in Morocco, so I was pleased to join in when, early in the pandemic, P&P arranged a Zoom group for former Moroccan volunteers and the housemothers to get together regularly to chat online. Now I am giving weekly one-to-one English lessons to housemothers via Zoom. This type of e-volunteering is not always easy, but it can be enjoyable and is certainly worthwhile. The housemothers work very hard; they have a difficult job looking after the girls, especially during the pandemic, and it is good to show them that, although volunteers cannot currently travel to Morocco, we still want to offer support and help. There are some challenges with e-volunteering. I had never even heard of Zoom before lockdown, but I have found it easy to use. Depending on the signal strength and other factors, there may be connection difficulties, but re-connecting does not usually take too long. The housemothers say they like the online classes and are finding them useful. They are gradually becoming more confident and more fluent in their use of English, which means they will find it easier to communicate with future volunteers and visitors to the boarding-houses. I would certainly encourage other volunteers to try e-volunteering; it can be very rewarding.’
In The Gambia an e-volunteering placement has just been arranged for volunteer Marta, a language teacher fluent in a number of European languages (she can also speak some Mandinka, one of the Gambian local languages). The Gambia is a country whose economy relies heavily on tourism. During the pandemic our local partner Adama, along with others involved in Gambian tourism, has developed several new tours designed to attract a wider range of tourists to the country. One of these is the Ninki-Nanka Trail, described as ‘a-much needed contrast to sun, sand and sea package tourism that builds on the untapped potential of the River Gambia – combining river-based and overland excursions, the trail offers immersive and meaningful interaction with local people, in particular through community-based tourism initiatives.’ A website has been written to advertise this new tour which will be marketed throughout Europe. Marta is going to use her language skills to help with the translation of this website, initially into Spanish. This is a great example of how we have been able to use a volunteer’s specific skills to support project needs and demonstrates how any website development work can easily be accomplished without leaving home.
We are just in the process of setting up an e-volunteer placement for volunteer Ben in Eswatini. Ben will use his knowledge of computer coding to teach a member of our local partner team, which will then be shared with children at an after-school club. This placement is in the early planning stages – however if it works out it will be another example of how linking up with someone via Zoom or Skype enables volunteers to share their skills and conduct training with local staff without leaving home.
In Cambodia mentoring work via fortnightly video-conferencing sessions continues, and our local partner reports that this is being very useful in developing the ideas and confidence of the head-teacher, Dara. Dara is willing to try out all suggestions we make for possible e-volunteer projects to support his online teaching programme, and comes up with plenty of suggestions of his own. Every week he sends one of the story videos made by volunteers to his classes via Facebook and discusses it with them in their next online class – he regularly tells us how much his students love the stories. The ideas sent by one volunteer for model-making activities (an e-volunteer match for a volunteer who is an engineer) were taken up with alacrity by his staff who are now doing very creative modelling activities with their own classes. We have started to focus on ideas for the development of a literacy programme using books from the library and hope to develop this in the coming weeks, hopefully with support from an e-volunteer with relevant experience in this field.
Dara is also working with e-volunteer Zara to make a podcast, as reported elsewhere in this newsletter.
In the coming months we hope to take all these initiatives forward and share them with other countries where we work – all the e-volunteer work described above could be applicable in many different places – and as more volunteers come forward willing to try out e-volunteer projects their specific skills and experiences will give us even more ideas for things we can do.
We also have big ideas for expanding our video-making initiative. So far we have focused on story reading, but our long-term plan is to build up a whole library of videos which can be accessed by our local partners and people at the projects where we work, demonstrating a whole range of activities and skills. We would love to find volunteers willing to film themselves demonstrating art and craft activities – ideas volunteers have suggested so far include weaving with paper or long leaves, leaf printing, collages using locally available materials, potato printing, model-making using recycled materials, making flowers from straws or tissue paper. Are there music or drama activities that could be demonstrated online? – if so please share your ideas with us. What about curriculum-based activities? –
Volunteer Yvonne is currently making videos demonstrating a couple of simple Science activities – is this something you could contribute to? One volunteer has suggested using coloured paper to demonstrate fractions and/or symmetry to support learning in Maths – do you have any other ideas? Teachers of younger children sometimes use story bags filled with a range of resources to stimulate activities based on a story they have just read to the children – could anyone demonstrate this on a video for us? Moving away from the classroom, we would love to have a series of videos demonstrating how to create a document in Word, how to make and use an Excel spreadsheet, how to make a Powerpoint presentation etc – could anyone help with this? If you have volunteered in the past, think about the most successful technique you shared with local staff during your placement – could you demonstrate this on video? Even if you don’t want to make a demonstration video or feel you don’t have the skills to do this, please send me your ideas – there will be others willing to make the videos if you share your ideas.
So using your skills from home offers lots of scope. Whether you would like a link-up with a particular project for an e-volunteering placement or prefer to make videos from home which can be used more generically across several projects, please do consider an e-volunteer placement, and share this information with others you think may be interested. We may not be able to travel to the projects at the moment, but with a little imagination there are many ways we can maintain contact with them and continue to share our skills.