Viral Volunteering - Learning From COVID-19

November 5, 2020

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We have always loved the spiriting of volunteering: it is a powerful way to contribute to the society. When the opportunity to volunteer and be part of Yuwa in Action came about, we immediately jumped!

It was a great learning experience for us to volunteer for the UNDP-facilitated youth webinar series, entitled ‘Yuwa In Action Against COVID-19’. These webinars brought together a diverse group of youth from across the country to identify key problems faced by the vulnerable populations and apt solutions through online surveys, discussions and consultations. Our online surveys focused on issues including access to basic facilities, problems faced by women, marginalized communities, people with disabilities and senior citizens. Organized from June onward, the webinar series were able to bring forward the issues of inclusion in the forefront, in the current context of COVID-19.

As part of the survey, we, the youth volunteers from all seven provinces of Nepal, spoke to our community members either virtually or by respecting social distancing protocols. We used KOBO tools to administer this survey, after which the data was collated and analysed to provide a national picture of the impact of COVID-19. After receiving the data from the survey, we could identify the most pressing problems because of the pandemic for various communities. This allowed us to brainstorm and propose contextual solutions from our own communities.

The Main Learnings

In the process, we learned that COVID-19 has had deep and far-reaching impacts. We spoke to various people on different issues. For one, we noticed that livelihoods across the country was severely impacted - 89% reported their livelihood/income source has been impacted. Sure, we had heard that COVID-19 would affect our economy. But while talking to our community members, we actually understood what it meant: people who were engaged in agriculture for their livelihood (and 42% of the respondents were), could no longer go to the fields; people who had small businesses had no market to sell their produce; people who were working in other countries had lost their jobs. From the total survey respondents  of 2762, 33% told us that either they themselves or someone in their family had lost their jobs in the current context.

Second, the virus also had a huge impact on the health of the people. COVID-19 in itself is a threat and proper access to its treatment is difficult. But then we encountered so many people who were either in need of pre-natal care or post-natal care, babies who needed vaccination, senior citizens with multiple health conditions, people with disabilities who required steady health support. All of these people needed healthcare on a regular basis, but because of the current context were having a hard time accessing it. Another very big finding was the impact of this pandemic on mental health – 18% of the respondents reported facing some sort of mental stress: the rate of suicides had increased, and people reported the need for psycho-social counselling.

We also saw that something as important and necessary as education was difficult to access for many Nepali boys and girls. The schools and educational institutions were closed, or worse yet turned to quarantine centres. Online classes were also not accessible; and in places where they were accessible, they were not as effective.

Other issues such as limited access to information on the pandemic for communities of persons living with disabilities or senior citizens or even marginalized groups kept re-emerging from our findings. We also saw that gender-based violence had increased with many people being limited within households – 13% reported to have experienced gender-based or domestic violence. The matter of relief distribution was also contentious – 13% reported that the local level was not at all effective in providing them with basic services in the current context, whereas 44% reported that the local government was somewhat effective.  In general, 17% of the people reporting facing food insecurity; 21%, economic problem; 16%, problem accessing health care; and 19%, problems in commuting.

The Role of the Youth

The UNDP team has prepared reports of each of the webinar, and a final report, which demonstrate all the survey findings. Moreover, the team has also developed infographics based on the learnings. All these materials have been circulated to development practitioners, academia, members of the local government, UN agencies and is also available on the website for public consumption.

This opportunity only reinforced our commitment to volunteering. It showed us that we hold tremendous power to take action. We can work as catalysts to conduct awareness campaigns against stigmatization, or violence, or on proper sanitation and hygiene.

In this process, we learned that conducting the survey is not always easy. For example, most of us encountered technological hurdles or also encountered situations where respondents did not want to give us their time. And solutions to such challenges include mobilizing ourselves as a group to ensure digital connectivity in our provinces, work as motivators, as advocates. Other solutions are for us to support mental wellbeing by  talking to the diverse people who exist in our communities to understand their problems and to amplify their voice. The most important lesson for us, perhaps, was learning that we can contribute even in the worst of times to pave the path for the best of times.

The blog is based on interviews with the seven volunteers: Saurav Karki from Province 1, Aakanksha Jha from Province 2; Punam Shrestha from Bagmati Province; Roshani Baral from Gandaki Province; Anik Rana Magar from Lumbini Province; Shanti BK from Karnali Province; and Naresh Sharma Awasthi from Sudurpaschim Province.

The UNDP Electoral Support Project (ESP) collaborated with UN Resident Coordinator’s Office to join forces in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Organized under the banner of UN@75 from June to October, the youth webinar series entitled Yuwa In Action Against COVID-19 seek to bring issues of inclusion in the forefront, in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar was  led by youth volunteers – by the youth and for the youth in order to engage and capacitate them to get important information in the fight against COVID-19.

The webinars have focused on issues including access to basic facilities, problems faced by women, marginalized communities, people with disabilities and senior citizens. discuss myriad of issues. The webinars also seek to provide recommendations on the ways to address these issues. The aim is to reach as many people as possible: to listen to their hopes and fears; learn from their experiences; and empower them to think and act globally.