Presence or distance, the current challenge for organizations that rely on volunteers

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  • Celebration of Internacional Volunteer day in Barcelona.
    Celebration of Internacional Volunteer day in Barcelona. Source: Xarxanet.

"Today, leaving the nightmare behind, we see the merit of having been 'socially creative' but we also realize the cost of having stretched the seams of the teams we worked with so much"

Eulàlia Mas

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It is dizzying to look back or forward, from this day shaken by so many challenges, and weigh with perspective the changes that the pandemic has brought to the entities of the third social sector that we have teams of volunteers.

On the one hand, we remember how in full confinement and still without a vaccine, we took contradictory decisions with each other, simultaneously: forcing the elderly to stay at home, without making any other intervention other than telematics, to avoid the risk transmission! While we were preparing a device for young volunteers who went out on the street, to certify that they were authorized to be there. At the same time and correctly, the entities that served at-risk groups (hospitalized people, the elderly and alone in homes, people in penitentiary institutions) incorporated young people who mastered the new technologies and allowed them to replace the usual presence.

Today, leaving the nightmare behind, we see the merit of having been 'socially creative' but we also realize the cost of having strained the seams of the teams with whom we worked. The post-battle landscape is just now being seen and we know of people who are exhausted, exhausted, who take mental health leave, or of teams that are dismantled... In general, for the good health of the volunteer - let's say - of course - the pandemic has been a downer. And it will be difficult for us to recover.

We do not have reliable quantitative results on volunteering for the years 2021 and 2022. We will have them soon, with the help of the FCVS and the PVE , which we will study. But we know one piece of evidence: the bonds in a two-way human relationship cannot be replaced by any screen, app, teams, or telecommuting. There is nothing that can replace it! It turns out that this is what volunteering is all about: affection, care, warmth and empathy between equals. And therefore, all the resources implemented in the wake of the pandemic are welcome at the service of the projects, but they can never be put at the center. For the entities this would be like shooting us in the foot.

Obviously, the teams of salaried people of the entities will also have to know how to overcome this moment of hangover. We need to accompany the volunteer teams. It is necessary that contracted people and 'professionals without a contract' - among whom there are profiles of activists and militants of the first level! - sign a second founding agreement, essential for the sector. The 80s of the last 20th century are no longer valid. We must meet again and sign a pact for a fresh start. The moment calls for it. The challenges of truly inclusive volunteering and new, more accessible structures within organizations await us. We will have to know how to live up to it.

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