Online volunteering: an empowering experience
by Malik Ashaq Raza
09 January 2006
Lahore, Pakistan: A former teacher at a girls’ college, Amera stopped working in 1998 to be a full-time mother. When her children reached their school age, she decided to dedicate her free time to Online Volunteering.
“I joined RESPECT International (a Canada-based organization) in March 2003 and became an online volunteer for the first time then,” she says. “I felt that I had a lot to offer even while staying at home. Furthermore, I wanted to change to some extent the rather lopsided image of women from Pakistan.”
At RESPECT, Amera has assisted the coordinator and other online volunteers to create procedures and documents to support their programmes. The aim of RESPECT International is to increase awareness of refugee issues among non-refugee students in participating countries, to build bridges between non-refugee students and refugee ones through pen-pal letter exchange and to encourage students to act to raise awareness of refugee issues.
“When I joined RESPECT, it had been working on this for almost two years and they were approaching the point of the need for more standardization of their procedures. I helped them in this task,” she explains.
Since then, she has helped RESPECT in policy analysis related to research and financial matters and prepared and edited documents. She has also managed two teams of online volunteers: the RESPECT Finance Team and RESPECT Grants Research Team. These volunteers were involved in gathering, tabulating and analyzing data related to RESPECT’s activities, as well as researching new sources of grants and funding. Amera was vice president of finance and a member of RESPECT’s Interim Board of Directors until June 2005. Nowadays, she still helps the organization as an advisor and consultant by providing planning and documentation for various ongoing projects as well as for forthcoming activities. “I am basically a troubleshooter,” Amera says.
Amera has been volunteering with other organizations as well. She has been on the team of volunteers working on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). They have researched examples of onsite and online volunteers applying Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) and relating each example to a Millennium Development Goal.
Despite the obligations that come with being a full-time mother, Amera sits for hours in front of the computer to fulfill her online volunteering assignments. “To complete some of my assignments I spend up to 30 hours per week in front of the computer screen. When my children are at home because of exams preparation leave or holidays, I have to juggle my sleep,” she explains.
When asked about the impact of volunteering on her life, Amera explains, “Volunteering has given me a new perspective on the way developing countries look at various issues, especially those dealing with women and their social status. It has also helped me get to know different regions of the world and the different challenges they face. I hope I have contributed to finding solutions that are tailored to the specific situation.”
Amera holds a master's degree in science in housing, home management and interior design and recently completed a diploma in online teaching. She is enthusiastic to take up new online assignments in the future in order to contribute constructively through her expertise and skills.
The Online Volunteering (OV) Service is managed by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme. Since its launch in 2000, it has involved thousands of individuals and hundred of organizations worldwide to help address the targets of the MDGs by way of the Internet.
The author is also an online volunteer from Eritrea.
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