UNV Europe and Central Asia Meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2017.
Dmitry Frischin (first row, far left), Regional Manager of the UNV Office for Europe and Central Asia, and UN Volunteers serving in Europe and Central Asia during a meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

New era volunteerism in response to COVID-19: Volunteers as harbingers of change

As morning breaks, the sun starts rising over empty streets and silence. This is the time of lockdown, the new rhythm of life in the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought tremendous challenges for humanity. Suddenly, people start to show up in the streets. Wearing masks and protective gear, they bustle about their business.

Some of them load trucks with big boxes full of food and hygiene items. Others are rushing to distribute printed handouts outlining the basic principles of hygiene in the context of COVID-19. Yet others are sitting in front of their laptops at home or reaching each household in remote and affected areas, assisting health or social workers, delivering food or disseminating the handouts.

These people stand united under one goal – to support people in this difficult time. They represent one group, one 'nation', one community – they are volunteers. They come of their own will, women and men, representing all nationalities and ages. These volunteers are the first responders to the crisis... inspired, passionate and committed. --Dmitry Frischin

In Europe and Central Asia, the volunteer movement has been officially recognized by a number of governments for the outstanding service provided by volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Kazakhstan, more than 20,000 volunteers deliver food and disseminate information about hygiene to rural and disadvantaged people. Volunteer groups in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova provide counseling support to the affected population. Volunteers in Russia have initiated the national campaign “#Wearetogether” to ensure help reaches those in need.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is an integral part of the global volunteer family, enriching the United Nations system with partnerships for innovation, service delivery and community-level outreach for a better future.

What is the specific benefit volunteers bring to society and the United Nations, especially in Europe and Central Asia, where many countries have an upper middle income status? The answer is easy, if we look at examples of their activities in the response to COVID-19.

Polina, a UN Volunteer with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Moldova, was inspired to explore innovative solutions in response to COVID-19. As a professional in IT solutions, Polina contributied to developing the country's U-Report, a global virtual instrument for monitoring and collecting youth and adolescence feedback on health and wellbeing issues related to Covid-19. With thanks to Polina, not only UNICEF, but also other entities in the UN system have a unique tool to monitor the health situation and act respectively.

A group of UN Community Volunteers with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan re-arranged their services to elderly and disadvantaged groups, including people with disabilities, to ensure continuous support during the quarantine. As face-to-face interactions are limited,

UN Community Volunteers in Uzbekistan start their working day every morning by contacting affected people in their respective communities, using all possible means of remote communication, like phone and Internet. They advise on social care, offer counseling, flag challenges to respective focal points, and provide legal and other support to community members. The pandemic was not able to stop their noble service. In addition, the UN Community Volunteers share their best practices and tips with other partners, thus enhancing the quality of support provided to communities.

In Serbia, 10 UN Community Volunteers, young Roma, started serving the United Nations response to COVID-19 recently. They deliver health emergency preparedness measures and social support schemes to the most vulnerable communities. Their assistance is crucial to those who remain limited in communication and with insufficient support.


Dmitry Frischin, Regional Manager of the UNV Office for Europe and Central Asia, presents a certificate of achievement to a UN Volunteer during a UNV meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan. ©UNV, 2017

Volunteers are fully recognized as first responders who re-direct their actions and introduce innovative and effective ways of helping humanity during the pandemic. The solidarity, know-how, complex outreach and remarkable level of self-organization exhibited by volunteers deserves acknowledgment and integration into our life. Irrespective of their location, or the political and socio-economic situation, you will always find volunteers standing together for the common benefit and survival of humanity.

Considering the negative effects of the pandemic, we should acknowledge that volunteerism is one of the most efficient tools for crisis response and recovery. Volunteers are the real harbingers of change to our society. They are an excellent solution for present and future engagement to recover and ensure sustainable development in the future we want for all.--Dmitry Frischin