The COVID-19 pandemic caught most of us by surprise. Across the globe, the spread of COVID-19 continues to cause death and disruption. It has pushed even the most advanced health systems to the brink. The full scale and impact of the pandemic, though far-reaching, still remain largely unknown. However, the rapid spread of the virus has reminded us of our interconnectedness and interdependency. Cooperation, coordination and collaboration have emerged as basic enabling factors for winning the fight against the pandemic.
In 2020, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme supported system-wide action on COVID-19 by investing US $2 million to mobilize national UN Volunteers in 79 countries and with 18 UN entities. The resources were dedicated from UNV's Special Voluntary Fund* (SVF), a flexible multi-donor fund that allows UNV to provide timely and strategic investments when needed, such as during the ongoing crisis.
One year on, some of the UN Volunteers deployed across the world share their experiences and lessons in bringing people and processes together to fight the pandemic.
Ronald Timbe joined the World Health Organization (WHO) in Zimbabwe as a UN Volunteer Medical Epidemiologist when the need was greatest. His role was to support the Ministry of Health and Child Care in COVID-19 response surveillance activities. This mainly involved offering technical advice, programme planning and implementation, trainings, data analysis, designing of a data collection tool and coordinating reporting activities.
For Ronald, it was a difficult moment, but an exciting challenge.
To be part of a new beginning is something that one might dream of, but for me it has become a reality, as I am able to influence how future outbreaks will be investigated in Zimbabwe. --Ronald Timbe, UN Volunteer Medical Epidemiologist with WHO, Zimbabwe
Ronald helped set up mobile electronic data collection tools and data platforms that the Ministry adopted. He was responsible for training staff on setting up and using the system. Additionally, he helped coordinate daily and weekly COVID-19 situation reports and the development and implementation of health-related assessments and surveys by the Ministry.
In Madagascar, three UN Volunteers, Kenny Rogers Rabotoson, Justine Lange Lailla, Raharijaona Todisoa Faramana are busy collecting, cleaning and analysing COVID-19 data for accuracy.
The Community Mobilization Specialists are deployed in different regions of Madagascar to support COVID-19 response efforts of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The dissemination of clear and accurate information is a core part of their daily activities. Working as part of the Decentralization and Community Resilience programme of UNDP Madagascar (Programmeme d’Appui à la Décentralisation et à la Résilience Communautaire), they are also key to supporting COVID-19 operational guidelines and protocols in remote regions of the country.
As a result of the interventions of three UN Volunteer Community Mobilization Specialists, local communities in remote regions of Madagascar are increasingly aware of basic COVID-19 prevention and treatment protocols.
Dr Fanja Razafindrandretsa, another UN Volunteer in Madagascar, was also deployed through the SVF. She serves with WHO as an Epidemiologist in the East coast region of the country, Tamatave. Her focus is on providing programme support for epidemiological surveillance of COVID-19 cases and helping with contact tracing. Fanja's technical and logistical expertise allowed for efficient coordination of surveillance activities and timely delivery of medical aid materials to local hospitals.
At the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO) in Congo Brazzaville, UN Volunteer Guy Mbika Kimbangou is supporting UN-wide technical coordination, supporting communications and social mobilization efforts. Through his assignment, Guy has had the chance to regularly interact with different categories of local communities, including youth, people with disabilities, refugees, women and students, on COVID-19 response preparedness.
"I maintained effective contacts with local communities and partners in the field, national authorities and institutions, journalists, representatives of Technical and Financial Partners (TFP) and representatives of major international donors and NGOs," he explains.
Guy says that his national UNV assignment was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
As a national UN Volunteer, I have learnt a lot, both from a professional and human point of view. There is one take-away I have about volunteering, particularly in challenging situations such as coordinating response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is "adaptability" – this of absolute importance as a volunteer. Guy Mbika Kimbangou, UN Volunteer with UNRCO, Congo
In Indonesia, Wahyu Manggala Putra serves as UN Volunteer Information Management and Reporting Officer with the UNRCO. Through his role, he has been keeping track of the UN COVID-19 project dashboard, ensuring data and information from UN entities are included and updated in a timely manner. He has also been coordinating and monitoring the UN Humanitarian Response Plan in Indonesia and developing required analytical frameworks and reports on the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Manggala brings a set of indispensable skills that are in high need at this time of coordinating the response to the COVID19 pandemic. He has the skills to synthesize many pages into a set of compelling infographics. --Afke Bootsman, Head of UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Indonesia
In Venezuela, UN Volunteers Rosana Jimenez and Yasmin Lapeira, coordinate the pandemic response. They began serving with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) during one of the most difficult moments in recent times. Their work involves connecting different actors providing humanitarian assistance for people in need and helping expand the operations of UNOCHA in the region.
Through this initiative, the UN Volunteers were able to gather valuable information that has helped inform UNOCHA projects and programmes. Rosana highlights the importance of their mission as facilitators, connecting government entities, humanitarian organizations and the affected population.
Without volunteers, many things would not be done. We try to give a voice to others, to vulnerable communities, and that is absolutely necessary to understand the actual needs of the local population. --Rosana Jimenez, UN Volunteer with OCHA, Venezuela
In Peru, Monica Villanueva was deployed with UNDP to help coordinate civic participation in COVID-19 response efforts. To achieve her goals, she re-designed internal communication strategies for response efforts to mainstream participation and engagement of volunteers.
The stories of UN Volunteers helping coordinate COVID-19 response activities across the world highlight the urgent need to work together in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. To win the battle, response efforts must adopt inclusive and multi-sectoral approaches that highlight and leverage everyone’s role in society.
Access further information
Read more on UNV's support to partners, through the SVF, in their COVID-19 response here.
*UNV's Special Voluntary Fund (SVF) was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. Over time, the SVF mandate has been modified and expanded, with the SVF providing seed funding to scale up successful projects where volunteerism has had a transformative impact. The SVF is also used to develop innovative volunteer-based solutions as well as undertake research and knowledge sharing. Read more here.