As the summer we are all enjoying the last late summer days and starting up the new (academic) year, it is a good time to look back on the extra ordinary months behind us. A time that is marked by Covid-19 and the measures that are taken across the globe to control the virus. Maybe you spent your summer at home, or cautiously travelled somewhere, with your facemask, restaurant reservation and disinfectant ever within reach.
Blogpost by Ilona van Breugel (Erasmus University Rotterdam) from Volpower Netherlands
Covid-19 turned all our lives upside down. This of course also affected our VOLPOWER volunteers, whose volunteering activities were suddenly interrupted. Many volunteering activities were cancelled or substituted online. However, some volunteers also jumped on new volunteering opportunities that arose due to Covid-19. Kokob, one of the Dutch VOLPOWER volunteers, joined a telephone helpdesk about Covid-19, specially targeting Tigrinya and Arabic speaking refugees in the Netherlands.
Since the news and government regulations around Covid-19 are only shared in Dutch, and to a limited extent in English, several migrant organisations observed that this led to a lot of questions and misinformation amongst migrants who do not speak Dutch (yet). A collective of different organisations got together under the name ‘Corona Action group Refugees’ and set up a helpdesk to answer all Covid-19 questions in Tigrinya and Arabic. The group offers a telephone helpdesk two times a week and shares translated articles and information on Covid-19 on their facebook page.
When her regular activities at Stichting Lemat were cancelled due to Covid-19, volunteer Kokob did not hesitate for a moment to join the newly established helpdesk that was jointly set up by some of her colleagues. Kokob, who works as a Tigrinya interpreter, joined the helpdesk to answer questions from the Eritrean callers. The new helpdesk volunteers were trained and regularly briefed on the latest state of affairs around the Covid-19 regulations and generic financial and social regulations.
Kokob describes how people call with all sorts of questions, from health-issues to financial concerns as a consequences the Covid-19 outbreak, or the effect of Covid-19 on their asylum or family reunification procedure. The helpdesk staff clarifies the questions in their mother tongue, refutes the widespread misinformation, and were necessary refers the callers to the right municipal desk or other aid. The helpdesk is staffed from home, with the volunteers answering the phone calls from their living rooms. This makes the Covid-19 volunteering a very different experience from regular volunteering. Kokob only sees her colleague-volunteers online, and speaks to the callers over phone only. Yet, it was special and satisfying to be able to help in these very strange days. While volunteering over the phone is very different from her regular activities, which all revolve around the close contact with the participants and fellow volunteers, it is great to be able to help someone with just a phone call and in that sense, making a small gesture to help someone, volunteering in times of Covid-19 is not that different at all.
Read more about the C19 helpdesk for refugees here: https://www.facebook.com/C19helpdesk/
The organisations in the ‘Corona Action group Refugees’ are: Stichting Nieuwlander, Syrische Vrijwilligers Nederland, Cultuur in Harmonie, Syrisch Kurdisch Informatiepunt, Hello Breda, Centering Pregnancy