How 2020 turned out differently from planned.

2020 was the year of change for Volunteering Otago, and so it continues to be, though not in the way that we could have guessed. While we are making heartbreaking decisions every day to mitigate the risk involved around the country, we are 100% committed to both the support of our community as well as their safety. We do all that we do for our community whānau, even more so in the midst of a national emergency.

How do you volunteer in a pandemic? How can organisations who are reliant on volunteers continue their programmes? I’ve said it so many times before, but our nation would grind to a halt without its volunteers, so what do we do now that this might actually be a possibility?

The first thing that we need to do is to stop. Take a deep breath. Have a look around us to see what is happening. Count our blessings – what have we got to be grateful for? It might all sound cliche but honestly, if we’re not going to stop and be grateful for the wealth in our lives now, when are we going to do it?

Sarah Cross, a resilience and wellbeing coach in Dunedin with some words of wisdom about taking care in these challenging times:

The next thing we can do is try and think this through logically and with as much common sense as we can muster in challenging times. The Ministry of Health is drilling into us when we would need to panic, and when we would need to be tested, and for goodness sake, please wash your hands! So what is there about the volunteer work that you do that needs to change? Can you contact your clients/support workers through Zoom or Whatsapp? If they don’t speak English, how are you going to make use of interpreters – perhaps through three way conversations? Just because you can’t be next to each other, doesn’t mean that you can’t spend time with each other – we have the technology. Now is the time for us to find out how to use it.

We also need to be taking care of ourselves – our health, which also includes our mental health. Stress, anxiety and isolation are the biggest winners when we don’t put our mental health first. Let’s make sure they are the losers in this crisis. Now is the time to think about doing the things that make you happy, whether it is finally reading those books that you’ve been hoarding for years, or climbing that tree. Sometimes you need to think outside the box; a few years ago in my own dark time, a friend convinced me to climb a mountain with them. When we got to the top of this mountain, she was glowing and so happy. I, however, was not. I hated every moment of that climb and I looked out at the vista thinking I should have just paid for a plane ticket. However, when I got home that day, I climbed into bed and read a book, the first time I had done so in 3 years. It took doing something that I didn’t like to remind me of what I really liked doing. If that is what it takes to stimulate a change in your life – DO IT.

Even if you hate climbing mountains!

For those of you who are wanting to volunteer for people in self-isolation – please do so through the appropriate channels. A pandemic is so incredibly different from any other emergency that the country can respond to and spontaneous volunteers can not only be difficult to manage, but also a hindrance to the official response. If you are wanting to volunteer, go through already established volunteer organisations who are dealing with their response but note that there are some organisations that have volunteers who are trained and have the appropriate protective equipment to respond. You can register your interest with these organisations, but you won’t be doing the work this time around. It’s a good idea to keep these organisations in mind for the future – we know that the world doesn’t stop with disasters, so you are bound to be needed in the future.

Here is a good example of ways that you can volunteer during these times!

Don’t be afraid of reaching out – not to your friendly neighbourhood volunteer centre, nor to your neighbours. All we ask is that you do it safely. You’ll have heard it a million times already and I’m sure you’ll hear it a million more times; follow the advice from the Ministry of Health. They really are the ones with the best and most relevant information.

Take care, community whānau. We’re here for you if you need us. Be safe, be kind. Aroha.