Since the COVID-19 outbreak, communities have been struggling to provide protection and services to the disadvantaged groups they support due to limited staff and resources, and the physical barriers of self-isolation and social distancing. This has left their service users without basic necessities and essential hygiene items and often quite literally isolated. More than ever, volunteers are needed to support the community's vulnerable but how can we empower them to play this role while ensuring their own safety?
1. Introduce virtual volunteering opportunities. Be creative to provide online service to people who are in need of mental, educational, or social support. HandsOn Hong Kong has utilized technology to connect our volunteers to people who are isolated by phone and by Zoom to provide visual storytelling for hearing impaired children.
2. Provide skills-based volunteering as a way to serve remotely With many people spending more time at home, it's valuable to connect skills-based volunteers with short-term projects that they can work on remotely. HandsOn Hong Kong put additional emphasis on our recruitment of volunteers with specialized skills, as a way to support nonprofits working through COVID-19 crisis-related planning, communications, or other projects while serving from home. We suggest 3-5 hours per week as being optimal for these opportunities.
3. Encourage donation drives to collect basic food necessities and essential hygiene items. Be a platform for sharing the community's needs with the people who want to help. When the crisis hit Hong Kong, we contacted our 100+ under-resourced charity partners' to establish their immediate needs and shared this information on our website. Tens of thousands of these items have been donated to these charities.
4. Develop a volunteer safety policy for in-person programs. Develop your policy based on local health authority guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Consider inviting medical professionals such as Medecins san Frontieres to review and input on the policy -- they were very happy to do so in Hong Kong. View HandsOn Kong's volunteer safety policy here. Then implement all the in-person programs with your well-developed volunteer safety policy in place, strictly following several key points:
- Limit the number of volunteers per program to allow for maintaining appropriate social distance
- Conduct temperature checks on all volunteers
- Provide masks for volunteers and distribute upon arrival, insisting that all comply
- Invite volunteers to wash hands upon arrival and provide hand sanitizer for frequent cleaning throughout the program
- It may seem obvious, but insist that volunteers do not attend if they feel sick or have a fever