Volunteering has many benefits beyond the benefits and assistance your actions give to others. Volunteers can themselves gain confidence, meet people, learn new skills, have fun and feel to be part of a community. Plus, there’s the wonderful knowledge that you are making a difference.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities around the world, but if there is one silver lining to its heavy, imposing cloud it is the renewed sense of community so many people have rediscovered throughout the last twelve months.
However, volunteering isn’t as straight forward as it might be, with many volunteers having to scale back or suspend their activities and the benefits they bring. At the same time, the effects of the pandemic and the stress and loneliness of lockdown make the contributions of volunteers more necessary than ever.
The United Nations has established its own program of online volunteering so people can donate their time and skills to communities and organizations around the world. It says, “with more than half of the global population experiencing movement restrictions, Online Volunteers are an effective solution to support international and national organizations in addressing the pandemic.”
The UN’s online volunteers contribute time, competencies and energy to support a variety of civil society organisations, public institutions, and UN agencies in the fight against COVID-19. To date, more than half a million volunteers, representing 111 different fields of expertise, have helped hundreds of organisations across 51 countries.
It is still possible to donate your skills to the programme. More information can be found on the United Nations website.
COVID-19 has spawned an epidemic of loneliness, according to health experts. They warn that the effects of prolonged isolation in terms of mental health and physical health are yet to be fully understood. Most concerningly, the collapse in social contact is particularly hard on the most vulnerable populations, including older adults and people with disabilities of pre-existing health conditions.
Simply writing a letter to a lonely or vulnerable person can have a huge impact on their wellbeing and mental health. The UK’s Postal Museum has compiled a list of letter-writing initiatives that aim to help those in need. Some great letter-writing initiatives designed to redress pandemic isolation include the #MyDearNewFreind initiative of the National Literacy Trust and #ReadALetter by Letters Live.
Another fun activity that families can do together is sidewalk art. In the UK, children were encouraged to draw rainbows on pavements and display rainbow posters in their windows in support of the NHS.
In the USA, Habitat for Humanity encouraged children to download its stencils so they can chalk and paint onto their neighbourhood sidewalks to raise awareness about the charity’s work. Habitat for Humanity has created a range of activities to engage families and create opportunities to learn about housing inequalities.
Even something as simple as displaying a teddy bear in your front window can make an important social contribution in these difficult times. Around the world, people have been participating in a global teddy bear hunt inspired by the wonderful children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by author Michael Rosen, himself a victim of COVID-19.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is said to have displayed two teddy bears in her own window.