Overseas volunteering adapts amid COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic was tough, it also allowed positive opportunities to arise such as gaining insights on how to improve overseas volunteering programmes.

Ardini Insyirah

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Published: 30 September 2020, 9:46 PM

What has happened to overseas volunteering when inessential travel doesn’t seem to be possible any time soon?

To understand the impact COVID-19 had on overseas volunteering, Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) hosted a two-hour webinar with local and overseas community partners.

Five guest speakers were invited to share how the crisis had affected the volunteering scene in their countries.

The discussion was moderated by Steven Lau, Assistant Director of YCS. The guest speakers include Lily Salim, the country director of HOPE Worldwide Indonesia; Dr Isaya Sinpongsporn, the associate dean at Bangkok University; Pham Van Anh Harry, the founder of ECO Vietnam Group; Joyce Yu, the manager of International Programmes at YMCA and Nadia Ongkowidjaja, a senior content strategist at SGAG.

Guest speakers

Here are three key changes to overseas volunteering post-pandemic:

1. Online volunteering made possible 

Online volunteering lessons
How Zoom is used to conduct online STEM lessons by volunteers. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM YOUTH CORPS SINGAPORE’S ZOOM WEBINAR


One common effort that the five speakers have made due to the pandemic is shifting their movements online.

Before COVID-19, volunteers used to go down to the schools within the communities to conduct lessons for the students. Since the ban on inessential travel, volunteers however were still able to contribute to these communities through Zoom classes.

According to Harry, the challenge was facilitating conversations between the volunteer and the community due to the language barrier. As such, online teaching has been broken up into 10 students per session.

While overseas volunteering has its challenges due to this pandemic, it is still accessible online.

2. Volunteering is now more sustainable 

YMCA volunteering
These volunteering efforts by YMCA Singapore can be sustainable throughout the year with the use of technology. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM YOUTH CORPS SINGAPORE’S ZOOM WEBINAR


While it was no easy task moving their efforts online, these community partners have found an opportunity to ensure the sustainability of overseas volunteering.

Before COVID-19, all communication between partners were made through WhatsApp and Messenger texts instead of video interactions. This pandemic highlighted the role that technology can play in project preparation in terms of logistics planning as well as interaction with the villagers prior to their visit.

This crisis showed them that video call sessions can take place before volunteers fly to the respective communities to conduct their services. The speakers believed that this will help volunteers get to know the communities better for more effective communication when they arrive at the villages.

“It will no longer be just a two-week YEP(Youth Expedition Project) trip. It can last even longer and it allows projects to be more sustainable,” said Joyce.

As the pandemic pushed these community partners to adapt, it opened up new opportunities to benefit the sustainability of overseas volunteering.

3. Communities coming together for a greater good 

Online Volunteering
The community that HOPE Worldwide Indonesia works with to provide better living environments. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM YOUTH CORPS SINGAPORE’S ZOOM WEBINAR


Community service doesn’t just mean foreign assistance. This crisis has encouraged more people to lend a helping hand within their communities. It was also recognised that companies were working together to lighten the burdens that COVID-19 has brought on them.

“I think with this virtual platform, it does draw everyone closer. It’s like service without borders,” said Joyce.

Harry mentions how the pandemic highlighted the “inequality between the rich and the poor” which raised awareness about the gap and provided more support to help non-governmental organisations to breach this gap.

Steven concluded that volunteering is not over during this pandemic and technology can be leveraged on to reach out to these communities and close the divide.

Although the pandemic brought about challenges to these community partners, it also pushed them out of their comfort zone which allowed them to explore new areas of opportunity. These opportunities as mentioned above seem to be promising changes to the future of overseas volunteering.


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