UN Volunteers make important contributions to UN action in the pursuit of sustainable development, with a particular focus on people in transition or crisis. UN Volunteers – who are often well qualified individuals at the beginning of their careers – bring much needed skills, experience and energy to our public health work around the world, particularly in country offices, by augmenting surge capacity during an emergency, or by doing a lot of the ground work in more stable settings.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed in June 2018, provides the umbrella agreement between WHO and UN Volunteers for the deployment of UN Volunteers to WHO offices in the field. This agreement also provides an option for young people from diverse backgrounds with a way to broaden their knowledge and experience towards further work with WHO or other agencies of the United Nations.
I want to help. Where can I find about about volunteering?
There are plenty of ways to get involved. Many local charities will be keen to attract new volunteers – especially as older stalwarts are forced to stay at home. Or there are national schemes, such as NHS volunteer responders. Some bigger charities, such as the Trussell Trust food bank network, have set up their own onlineschemes to match volunteers with food banks in their area. Local volunteer centres and organisations such as Volunteering Matters and Do-it can link you up with charities close to where you live. Reach Volunteering will match people with specialist professional skills, such IT expertise, to charities who need their help.
How do I volunteer for the NHS?
The health service in England has put out a call for volunteer responders to help medical staff with tasks such as: delivering medicines from pharmacies; driving patients to appointments; bringing them home from hospital; and making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. More than 500,000 people have already signed up. More details are on the NHS England website.
I’ve got work and family duties, but keen to get involved. How can I help?
Keeping an eye out for neighbours and family members is the simplest way to help people who are vulnerable, lonely, self-isolating or busy key workers. Help could mean anything from running errands to the shops to providing a friendly voice of reassurance and support. Covid-19 Mutual Aid was set up to co-ordinate “good neighbour” initiatives and has lists of local groups in your area, together with details of how to help people safely.
Am I allowed to volunteer under the ‘stay at home’ rules?
Yes. According to Shaun Delaney of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, exceptions to the guidance include people needing to travel to provide care to others. “In other words, people can go out to volunteer if they are providing help to vulnerable people or if their volunteering cannot be done from home.” If you are deemed high risk – you are aged over 70 or have underlying health issues – there are volunteering opportunities that you can do by phone or computer from home.
Is volunteering safe?
Be sensible and vigilant. If you are helping out neighbours, please remember physical distancing rules: try to communicate by phone or text; don’t enter people’s houses and always stay at least two metres away. Look after yourself, don’t go on an errand for a neighbour if you are ill or self-isolating. Wash your hands regularly.
What if volunteering involves face-to-face contact?
There are inescapable health risks from face-to-face volunteering and no guarantees that you will have adequate personal protective equipment. For this reason many voluntary projects, such as community kitchens and day centres, have shut down services. However, others are adapting to try to minimise the risks of infection through physical contact or close proximity. Some face-to-face befriending services, for example, have been replaced by phone or online alternatives.