UN Volunteers serving during COVID-19, working to guarantee nobody is left behind.
UN Volunteers serving during COVID-19, working to guarantee nobody is left behind.

The will to win: COVID-19 response

Despite efforts worldwide, COVID-19 continues to advance and has now affected over 775,000 people in 178 countries. Additionally, the level of vulnerability of low-income people and countries has increased. In Peru, about 70 per cent of the economically active population belongs to the informal sector and is not covered by the social protection system. They are the ones who most suffer due to the crisis, along with older adults and people with chronic diseases.

Two weeks ago, Peruvians - with the exception of some heroes - were called to stay at home to prevent COVID-19 from spreading and reaching the most vulnerable populations. However, confinement does not imply standing idly by. This is well understood by many young people, who are willing to offer their unconditional help during these times which have already made their mark on the history books.

Therefore, aware of the need for solidarity, the Ministry for Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS), has called for 15 thousand young people to support the state in the first massive digital volunteering campaign in the country, aimed at monitoring, by phone, the physical and emotional health of 400 thousand seniors living in poverty and under the poverty line. This initiative is being supported by the Bicentennial Special Project, the Presidency Council of Ministers and the United Nations Development Program, through UN Volunteers.

Online actions to bring us closer to those who need us

Volunteers will be in charge of calling 30 senior citizens every day to ask them about COVID-19 related issues, namely if they feel any symptoms of the disease and if they have family members who can take care of them during this time. Moreover, during their twelve days of volunteering, the young volunteers will provide emotional support, communicating effectively and empathetically with the seniors in order to identify and report symptoms of anxiety or depression.

The focus on older adults has been prioritized because, as it is known, they are the most prone to catching COVID-19 and require permanent follow-up. Almost 12 per cent of the national population is over 60 years old and most of them suffer from chronic pathologies such as hypertension and diabetes.

This work, which is possible thanks to MIDIS’s database, will consist of reporting each call and case on an online platform. This will allow early alerts to be created to ensure the most appropriate treatment for this segment of the population, from MIDIS and the Ministry of Health (MINSA).

To orient the work of the volunteers, guides and educational materials have been prepared on care techniques and emotional management, especially targeted to older adults. These guides also include physical and emotional self-care tools for volunteers.

This orientation is fundamental to our work and I think it’s great that they’ve taken into account the emotional toll the volunteers are going to face. We’ve been given tips on managing the anxiety we might feel and breathing exercises to do before each call. --Dane Gámez, a volunteer with the Bicentenario project

As additional support, a team of 200 volunteers is already receiving calls from helpline 101 and answering questions regarding the financial subsidy being provided by the government. For these young people, MIDIS has prepared a FAQ guide to help them cover all doubts regarding the 380 soles subsidy for families in vulnerable situations.

If mobilizing many people under a common goal is already difficult, doing it from a distance represents an even greater challenge; but it proves that solidarity has no limits.

Building a support network together

This is not the first time that the UN Volunteers program will mobilize thousands of volunteers. It also did this for the Lima 2019 Pan American and Para Pan American Games, where 21,000 people were trained and involved. This is the seventh time that a massive volunteer experience has been carried out, but it is the first one being 100 per cent implemented through digital media and in record time.

Strategic alliances have been key to help all organizations make their knowledge available to contribute to the high demand for care that has been generated by the pandemic in the country. Diverse organizations that are part of the volunteer ecosystem, such as the Soy Voluntario and Proa Networks, have participated in this joint initiative, articulating efforts for this first online experience.

As part of its commitment to serve the most vulnerable populations, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is providing technical support to this initiative, through its United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme. Support includes a team of training experts, mass volunteer mobilization, the selection process, e-learning and creating strategic alliances.

This is a collective construction that has been strengthened thanks to the country's volunteer ecosystem, the volunteer networks and the experiences and lessons learned from various previous initiatives. --Oscar Málaga, UN Expert Volunteer in mass volunteer mobilization

One joint goal

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development considers volunteering as a powerful vehicle to achieve common goals, since it reinforces civic commitment and peoples´ solidarity. In this opportunity, in the face of a global threat that risks the lives of millions of people, volunteering relies on technology for providing creative solutions that can help overcome the crisis.

There is undoubtedly much more to be done on various fronts and the country's volunteers are leading by example. The thousands of young men and women who have joined this initiative demonstrate that the spirit of volunteering has once more been awakened in Peruvian hearts.

This article was first published by UNDP in Peru; view here.