The Covid-19 crisis has been both rewarding and challenging for volunteering. It has been comforting and encouraging for organisations and parishes to notice that people are willing to help and new people have become involved in volunteering. Of the people who have started volunteering during the pandemic, 80% want to continue after the crisis, reveals the Vapaaehtoistyö.fi online service’s survey with nearly 1,400 respondents. Of the respondents, 40% have started volunteering during the pandemic.
With the survey, the University of Helsinki, Citizen Forum, and the Finnish Fundraising Association (VaLa ry) collected information from 1,000 Finnish people on how they have helped others during the pandemic. As many as two-thirds of the respondents have helped someone in need of help they knew personally, and 12% per cent have helped strangers. In addition, people have taken part in various campaigns, for example, by putting teddy bears in front of windows or saying thanks to healthcare professionals.
Almost a quarter of the respondents have changed their habits of helping others, working as a volunteer, or donating to charity. People have become more willing to help and acknowledge others.
The pandemic has made volunteering more difficult
At the same time, the pandemic has reduced opportunities to maintain established voluntary activities. In addition, volunteers have been worried about the safety of volunteering. In the lockdown dialogues organised by the Sivis Study Centre last spring, many reported that various volunteering activities stopped suddenly. Many organisations were worried about how to restart volunteering and make volunteers come back. Taking the digital leap has been intensive and hard. Digital skills and tools have been insufficient, and people are exhausted from teaching and learning new methods, as well as from continuous online communication. People feel that more and more courage is required.
Only half of the planned volunteer training will be carried out. With the support from study centres, organisations normally organise more than 200,000 training hours annually, with more than 350,000 participants. Voluntary and civic activity training form a significant part of the training. Training is one way to volunteer. In a crisis situation, it is vitally important to keep up with emergency preparedness and friend volunteering training, for example.
Volunteering is an important part of the Finnish society
Loneliness and the need for social activities that promote well-being have increased during the pandemic. People need more help for everyday life and financial trouble. According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s November report, service and medical care delay caused by the pandemic is massive. The crisis hits those already in a vulnerable position the hardest. Many mental health and substance abuse rehabilitees, homeless people, and those on the income support have been left without the support they need, and there is an increased need for services among the victims of domestic violence. Older people are lonelier than before, and their ability to function has decreased; family carers are stretched to the limit because of restrictions.
The public service system’s debt will have a direct impact on organisation and parish work that mostly run on volunteer power. The multiplier effects will be considerable, especially as not enough preventive measures are being taken.
In a situation in which the society’s resilience – the ability to withstand and recover from difficult situations – is tested, we need to see the bigger picture. During the pandemic, we need to focus on social capital to which voluntary activity makes a significant contribution: social networks, confidence, and reciprocity are part of a functional society. When society is shut down, people become separated from each other, which creates confrontation and polarisation.
New practices must be created and shared during the coronavirus crisis
Right now, volunteering is needed. Through the ages, civil society organisations have been masters of creative problem solving and innovation. The Covid-19 crisis has created many new practices, and right now is the time to develop and share them.
Safety and current recommendations are taken into account in all actions. Organisations have successfully moved their training and group activities online. Telephone circles have been organised instead of meetings. One example is the Tampere Granny’s Corner’s successful phone call campaign. Meetings have been organised in small groups as communal meals or in immigrants’ Finnish groups with face masks, following the hygiene and safety distance instructions. Friend meetings have been organised outdoors. Peer groups meet on online platforms. For example, the Finnish Association for the Welfare of Older People VTKL’s Circle of Friends meetings are organised online. Choirs rehearse online, and the Martha organisations have gone remote.
Maintaining volunteer work and channelling the will to help into volunteering do not happen on their own. They require action, support, and resources.
The spirit in the lockdown dialogues was encouraging. By having the courage to try, you can inspire others. New collaborations have been created during the crisis. Peer support in the face of new challenges has been valuable and reassuring for organisations’ employees as well. The significance of communication and taking responsibility together have been emphasised.
Volunteer guidance, support, and training are important for the recovery of civic activities and for strengthening involvement and communality. Volunteering supports people during the crisis and the society’s recovery over the coming years.
Help is needed now more than ever. We cannot give up.
Irene Nummela, the Church Council
Marita Salo, Sivis Study Centre
Elina Varjonen, former Executive Director of Citizen Forum, currently working at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Translation: Hanna Väisänen