The spirit of volunteerism: A united Iraq under COVID-19

Posted May 5, 2020


COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in unprecedented ways, demanding a new approach to activities that previously shaped our daily routine. Hearing this call to action, the volunteer network of Karbala city took to the streets.

“We need to join hands,” says Mithal, 45, a Karbala local and member of the volunteer network. “In light of the spread of COVID-19, we took it upon ourselves to help how we can – distributing humanitarian aid and food baskets, sterilizing streets in the poorer neighbourhoods and raising awareness about the pandemic and maintaining personal hygiene.”

Over the past two months, more than 150 men and women from the Karbala volunteer network, have provided help to the most vulnerable citizens enduring the lockdown – ensuring that they can remain safely indoors, while the fight against the pandemic continues.

 

A volunteer delivers a food bag to a child in following the imposition of curfews.

At a time when social distancing is critical to curb the spread of COVID-19, many businesses remain closed across Iraq. With limited access to income, it’s the spirit of volunteerism in Karbala that is enabling access to food for the most vulnerable families living in 55 neighbourhoods across Karbala.

A family sits in front of their house after receiving a food delivery from volunteers.

As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, families in Karbala City and neighbouring Al-Hindia – a district characterized by its high number of IDPs and lower levels of education, especially for women – continue to receive food packages.

A volunteer delivers food to a family in the Tawrij district, located on the outskirts of Karbala.

A family sits in front of their house after receiving a food delivery from volunteers.


Hassan Ali Jabbar, 35, a daily wage earner from the University of Karbala has been unable to generate an income since the suspension of university hours in March. Now unemployed, Hassan wasn’t able to find enough food for him and his family on his own. “Thanks to the volunteers, I now receive food bags continuously,” says Hassan.

A volunteer delivers food to a family in the Tawrij district, located on the outskirts of Karbala.

A volunteer prepares to hand out educational pamphlets on COVID-19.

In coordination with the Karbala Governorate Crisis Cell, the Karbala volunteer network has also been disseminating information flyers and talking to residents to raise awareness of the benefit of improved hygiene.

A volunteer hands out educational pamphlets on COVID-19. 

“We have been organizing campaigns to fog residential areas, major streets and important buildings, and sterilize homes in poor neighborhoods - due to overpopulation,” explains volunteer Ali Hussein Al-Saadawi, 40.

A volunteer sterilizes a carpentry shop in a residential neighborhood of Karbala.

In 2017, the Karbala volunteer network was formed as a result of a joint United Nations Volunteer Programme and UNDP project, training young people in project coordination and management and inspiring a strengthened sense of volunteerism through small community projects.

A group of volunteers prepare to start sterilization in a residential neighborhood in Karbala as a precaution following the spread of COVID-19. 

 

 

“Thanks to the UNDP/UNV project, we learned how to work as a team and how to set practical timelines for our activities. This helps us to speed up implementation and ensure its accuracy,” explains Mithal. “We learnt that by supporting each other through volunteerism, we spread a spirit of peace and can build the bond of community.”

Volunteers sterilize a house in a residential neighborhood of Karbala.

“The volunteer network earnt the advocacy and support of the governorate through effective communication and evaluation skills acquired in our UNDP/UNV training. This professional and well-organized character of the network shows people volunteers can have great impact!” added Ali Hussein.

A volunteer checks the temperature of a child as a precaution against COVID-19 in Karbala. 

 

“For the future, we aim to increase the awareness of volunteerism among citizens and to deliver a clear message that volunteers have a major role in all crises. We want to instill a spirit of volunteerism in our youth and strengthen their skills by sharing our knowledge,” explains Ali Hussein.

 

A volunteer checks the temperature of a child as a precaution against COVID-19 in Karbala.

UNDP Iraq’s COVID-19 Response Package

UNDP Iraq, through the Stabilization Programme, is continuing efforts to support the Government of Iraq’s COVID-19 response. Measures to combat the virus will include increasing the testing capacity of laboratories, providing personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, increasing the number of isolation wards, and undertaking assessments to establish post-COVID-19 recovery strategies. Find out more.

Photos: Abdullah Dhiaa Al-deen/UNDP Iraq/2020