UN Volunteers Menwa Mohammed (left), Samah Ahmed (centre left) and Ziyad Ibrahim (centre), all serving with UNDP Sudan, having a discussion about inter-departmental collaboration before the war broke out in the country.
UN Volunteers Menwa Mohammed (left), Samah Ahmed (centre left) and Ziyad Ibrahim (centre), all serving with UNDP Sudan, having a discussion about inter-departmental collaboration before the war broke out in the country.

From Türkiye and Syria to Sudan: Online Volunteers are a resource for UN crisis response

The ongoing conflict in Sudan has driven 936,000 people out of their homes since 15 April, including 200,000 who have crossed into neighbouring countries. Although the United Nations had to relocate hundreds of its personnel and their families from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres affirmed the commitment of the UN system "to stand with, and work for, the Sudanese people." Online Volunteers are an additional resource to aid UN humanitarian efforts for Sudan within the country and from abroad.

Christina Sfeir (Lebanon) is currently completing her second assignment as an Online Volunteer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). She is offering her expertise in clinical psychology as an online counsellor for family members of OCHA staff in Sudan. Earlier this year, Christina provided similar services through OCHA to children of survivors of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.

Christina holds a master's degree in clinical and abnormal psychology, backed by over five years of experience working with diverse groups and implementing mental health and psychosocial support programmes. Her expertise spans individual and group counselling for children, teenagers and adults in various settings, on-site and online.

My motivation to apply for these opportunities is the same one that made me decide to become a clinical psychologist when I was 17 years old. It is the desire to help people feel better, no matter the context or the situation. --Christina Sfeir, Online Volunteer with OCHA

Witnessing the news and images of the earthquake that struck Türkiye and Syria, Christina felt a strong urge to assist those affected. She recognized the opportunity to use her professional skills to provide online counselling and create an exchange where she could enhance the well-being of survivors while keeping her own inner light shining through humanitarian work.

Christina's support for children of Türkiye/Syria earthquake survivors was built on trust and relationship-building. Engaging with children on their level, she discovered their favorite games and connected through shared interests.

For instance, one child showed her a Lego house representing an earthquake, allowing him to externalize the traumatic event and regain a sense of control. Christina encouraged him to continue playing with Legos and guided the mother in providing bedtime stories on related topics.

In another case, Christina used drawings and breathing exercises to instill a sense of security in a child, reminding her that loved ones would always have a place in our hearts, regardless of where they are. These interventions helped children regain emotional control, sleep better and cope with their fears.

Building on her successful experience, Christina extended her online counselling support to family members of OCHA staff in war-torn Sudan. Her current assignment focuses on helping these families navigate the challenging situation.

Through practical techniques such as breathing exercises, encouraging play, and creating a safe space for expression, Christina empowers the children to manage their emotions.

For parents, she provides guidance to regain control over their thoughts, enabling them to support themselves and their children effectively. Emphasizing the importance of accessible support systems, Christina strengthens the resilience of families facing adversity.

We mobilized Online Volunteer counsellors to support the family members of OCHA staff on request, some of whom had experienced traumatic incidences. Their prompt and invaluable assistance, delivered in the local language, was highly appreciated. We extend our sincere gratitude to the dedicated volunteers for their professionalism during this critical time and wholeheartedly recommend their assistance. --Mojgan Shadbash, Staff Counsellor, OCHA

Working online with children presented communication challenges, as physical assistance is often required during activities. To establish trust and engagement, Christina employed creative strategies, such as virtual house tours and shared drawings, enabling a meaningful connection.

In her current assignment, the main challenge lies in poor internet connectivity and scheduling flexibility to accommodate the availability of the families. Christina remains adaptable, finding alternative solutions to ensure her counselling services reach those in need.

Volunteering was always a part of my life, as I found that this is what keeps my inner light shining. --Christina Sfeir, Online Volunteer with OCHA

Christina's dedication to volunteering as an online counsellor has exemplified the power of compassion and professional expertise in crisis response. From supporting Türkiye/Syria earthquake survivors to assisting families in Sudan, her impactful interventions have provided comfort and relief to people in need.