Volunteerism is one of the clearest expressions of solidarity. Here, participants engage in a community-based violence prevention programme called 'Manohari' in Sri Lanka. 
Volunteerism is one of the clearest expressions of solidarity. Here, participants engage in a community-based violence prevention programme called 'Manohari' in Sri Lanka. 

Volunteer action counts – a story from Sri Lanka

On the occasion of International Volunteer Day this year, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Sri Lanka is featuring a series of articles for IVD 2020 authored by youth and volunteer organizations on their work during the Coronavirus pandemic. This is the second article in the series.

In Sri Lanka, schools have been closed for a while now due to the Coronavirus pandemic situation. Anuki and Nadeesh have been at home ever since their school closed down. Classes are still conducted online, but it’s getting boring day by day. Staying indoors is no fun!

Nadeesh is taking his G.C.E (A/L)’s next year. Anuki likes sports, she used to have practices at least three days a week. Now she doesn’t even get to meet her teammates. Anuki is worried there won’t be any national-level sports to compete in this year. Nadeesh loves physics and chemistry. Unfortunately, he cannot do practical sessions with online classes. Anuki and Nadeesh used to visit Achchi every weekend. Now they have not visited her for about a month. Anuki and Nadeesh are both frustrated as they have lost their normal routine.

Like Anuki and Nadeesh, these times can be stressful for most of us. Significant changes have happened to our daily lives. Online classes, reduced outdoor activities, lack of physical contact with extended family members, friends and colleagues, working from home and for some, temporary unemployment have all become the new reality. In addition, the uncertainty about the future, lack of regular routine, concerning information have all contributed to adding stress on everyone’s lives. During such times, it is important that we look after our mental health, as well as physical wellbeing.

It is important to know that during difficult and uncertain times it's normal to feel concerned, stressed, sad and even angry. Your emotions are valid. We may not be able to find solutions for everything but having someone who listens to you can be a source of strength. If you have any concerns, it’s always good to share them with someone you trust. Try not to keep things to yourself. You can discuss with your parents’, elders and friends. Voice your ideas, suggest new things and share your thoughts with others. If you find a family member or friend who is feeling anxious or sad, make sure to reach out and offer your support without any judgment. Listen to what they have to say. We can be there for each other through difficult times.

Another thing that helps manage difficult times is to create a routine. While you can create a timetable for yourself, you can also work with your family members to create a routine for your whole family. Make sure to allocate some “family time” where you all can do something fun and enjoyable together. Also, maintain your social connections with family and friends – using audio or video calls and various messaging services can be new forms of communication. There is no harm in going old school and sending a hand-made card or a handwritten letter to your friends and loved ones. Engaging in simple acts of kindness is a great way to manage stress too.

Solidarity in times of crisis is extremely important

Volunteerism is one of the clearest expressions of solidarity and a great vehicle for social inclusion. During the unprecedented times of COVID-19, many people are anxious and in need of support. Volunteering is a great way for you to contribute. Studies show that volunteering makes you feel positive because you have done something good – it helps your emotional wellbeing. It also helps to improve your social connections, build self-confidence and make a positive change in society.

There are many ways to engage in volunteerism; organizing simple things with your family and friends like distributing goods to needy families in your community, helping elders in your community order medicine online, setting up a handwashing facility near the local store or making a thank you note to someone in your community who continues to work as a frontline worker during these difficult times.

Given the current circumstances, make sure to follow all the safety measures. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we keep ourselves and communities safe while we support to make things better. Follow public health and social measures at all times. Adhere to guidelines issued by relevant authorities. Even the simplest things can make a big difference.

Volunteering with UNV

If you like to volunteer formally, initiatives like the UNV – V Force and other civil society organizations can be a great platform.

During the past months, many people, including celebrities and young people, have volunteered to support World Health Organization (WHO) Sri Lanka in creating messages, doing community work to spread awareness on how to be safe from COVID 19.

WHO, together with the Government of Sri Lanka and Directorate of Mental Health, has also provided information and guidance to the public on self-care and mental wellbeing. In collaboration with Community of Practitioners for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (COP-MHPSS), WHO distributed the illustrated guide on ‘Doing What Matters in Times of Stress’ in Sinhala and Tamil languages.

Young people – you are not invincible. The choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else. I’m grateful that so many young people are spreading the word and not the virus. As I keep saying, solidarity is the key to defeating COVID-19 – not just solidarity between countries, but also between age groups. Thank you for heeding our call for solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. -- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization

A community-based violence prevention programme ‘Manohari’, has been implemented in Sri Lanka. By breaking away from traditional mental health treatment and counselling models, the programme instead relies on story-telling, drama, dialogue and role modelling. WHO continues to provide technical evidence-based guidance to Sri Lanka through regional and global networking.

Giving your skills, talents and time for volunteering can make the world a better place. It will also make you feel confident, productive and good about your contributions. Your actions will also inspire others to do similar contributions to their communities. Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images of local people who have experienced COVID-19.

We can and will overcome this together!

Until then, Be Kind – Be Healthy – Be a Volunteer!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times Sri Lanka. It is the second in a series of five articles:

  1. Bringing the talents and skills of youth in Sri Lanka to a greater stage
  2. Volunteer action counts – a story from Sri Lanka
  3. Social aspects of volunteering in the context of COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka
  4. Volunteer action counts: Reimagining volunteering in the Decade of Action
  5. Community mobilization and activism during COVID-19