The seasons have changed quite a bit since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The maple in the yard has turned from green to autumn red, and then from leafless to being now covered in fluffy snow. Otherwise, it is hard to track time. Since last spring, days have been quite similar. The calendar is empty of activities. Highlights of daily life consist of small things: an outdoor trip to a new place, a board game night by candlelight. There is no point in dreaming of concerts or family parties for a long time.
Some people have even been delighted that there are fewer events, and you can keep your social circle smaller. As a result of Covid-19 restrictions, life has calmed down.
However, for some people, repetitive and lonely days are hard. Sorrows will swell if they cannot be shared with anybody. Especially the most vulnerable people are missing support, meetings, and rhythm in their daily life. Last autumn, requests for help from older people to HelsinkiMissio doubled. The need for food aid and the predicament of families with children have grown as a result of layoffs and unemployment.
Volunteers bring much-needed relief to the situation:
‘Some days may feel a bit hollow, but then comes The Wednesday when volunteers arrange activities, and that’s what I’m waiting for, the highlight of the week.’
‘Loneliness lightens when you meet people and discuss with them without any hurry and feeling forced to socialise.’
‘It’s a relief to know that a child can talk to and do things with a safe adult. They can talk about something that they would never tell their mom.’
Generally speaking, volunteers are very interested in helping. Emergency has urged people to act.
Volunteering is a safe way to get involved as organisers are careful about safety. Volunteers are provided with protective equipment, such as face masks and disposable gloves, outdoor meetings are preferred, and volunteers are given clear hygiene guidelines. Often organisations and communities also write down the names of participants. If someone gets exposed to the Covid-19 virus, they can be contacted.
Volunteering is part of wider civil society that supports people when problems have not escalated yet. A strong civil society makes it easier to find those who need help, and their needs will be better understood. They do well in their daily life without having to rely widely on municipal services.
During Covid-19 crisis, voluntary activity has often been successfully and more quickly launched, interrupted, and retargeted than municipal services.
At the same time, volunteers have had to adapt to changing situations. Many hesitate to join. Do I remember all the instructions, are the safety equipment safe enough, what if I spread coronavirus myself? It is wise to be cautious, and it is important to communicate about things that you are concerned about.
Remote volunteering can be done without worry, and amazing digital skills are not needed either: a lonely older person gets a lot of joy and security from ordinary phone calls. This year, it was also easy to share Christmas spirit: Siskot ja Simot ry organised a campaign called Joulupostia ikäihmisille (‘Christmas mail for older people’) already for the eighth time. Read more about the campaign in Finnish here.
Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, people do what they love the most, writes Annika Mutanen in Helsingin Sanomat (13.10.2020). Some people still go to bars, and some continue volunteering.
Acting for the most vulnerable people can bring a sense of celebration to ordinary daily life. Instead of a hangover and a guilt trip, volunteering makes you feel good for a long time.
Original text by Marjo Salmela, Organisation Manager of Kansalaisareena
Translation by Kati Merikoski
Edited by Eve Lahikainen, Communications intern at Kansalaisareena
Quotations collected by Annukka Oksman-Hiukka (Vuolle Settlement/VARES Network)