This last month has been all about change, and that’s not something that many of us deal with very well. The change has come very rapidly, and its been put there to keep us, all of us, safe. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been difficult or challenging. In fact, it usually means that it should be difficult and challenging.
Volunteers across the country have been dealing with significant ups and downs. There are volunteers in the older age category who have been placed in a high risk category and are no longer able to volunteer in the way that they are used to because of concerns about their health. There are student volunteers, some of whom are at a loss at what to do. By far the biggest group of volunteers that came forward to support the community were the ones in between, the ones who are usually employed and often have a busy life so usually don’t have as much time to volunteer. This is a significant indicator that traditional volunteer roles don’t fit the lifestyle of the largest group of potential volunteers in Aotearoa New Zealand.
But even though there have been challenges, and there has been significant change around what we can and can’t do; the Kiwi spirit has been amazing. The Prime Minister said that we are a team of 5 million and Kiwis across the country said, Yep, we got this. In Queenstown, where the welfare need has been huge, chronic and all-encompassing, our team in Central Lakes stepped up to the plate and ended up with over 500 volunteers, with the welfare team still supporting the response even as we speak. While the rest of New Zealand gets to get back to some sort of normalcy, it is likely that our Central Lakes team will continue going for a good while yet. Their dedication and their support for the community has made a tough situation easier for the local council and local response.
In Waitaki, where Volunteering Otago will be setting up a new volunteer centre in July with our new name of Volunteer South, the welfare response was lower but just because the area didn’t record a single case of Covid-19 in their district (a massive result that we can all agree is amazing!), didn’t mean that there weren’t people in need. Waitaki pulled through and delivered an amazing response to support those in the community, and it all began with a single Facebook conversation.
In our times, there is so much potential. There is technology to support and collaboration everywhere. ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ is pretty much a mantra for our wee space at the bottom of the world. Volunteers around the country used the advantages of technology to connect, to support, to reach out and make sure others were okay. The connectedness, which we were sure was so distant, was actually so close. The Facebook groups that sprang up in almost every community: Dunedin Community Covid Response, Karitane and Waikouaiti, Balclutha and Milton – they checked in, they supported and they made sure that everyone who they knew of – whether they were online or not – were helped if they needed help by sending them to the right places, whether that be Age Concern, or whether it was the Otago welfare line.
Now, as May comes to a close, we are looking forward to June, and hoping that we are coming to the end of a lot of the challenges that have been apparent in the last few months. National Volunteer Week is coming up from the 21st to the 27th of June (check out the Star newspaper today for our article on this if you’re in the Dunedin area) and we are also looking ahead to our new name: so watch this space. Our plans for 2020 were huge – but we’re not finished yet. Volunteering Otago is one of those who gets going when things get tough. Just watch.