As we reach over 12 months without the ability to travel outside our own neighbourhood, let alone outside our own country, we hear from Shane Halpin, CEO of Viatores Christi (VC), about how international volunteering has been affected by the pandemic. Is it still a thing? How is VC managing to keep their projects afloat?
Whilst many of us are waiting eagerly for the Government to lift restrictions to allow us to take our two-week holiday in the sun, volunteer support organisations like VC have been particularly hit by the standstill in international travel due to the pandemic.
VC, who recently celebrated 60 years as a missionary organisation in Ireland has seen many changes over the years but perhaps none as drastic as this year. Its 25 volunteer workers, located throughout the world, were called home exactly one year ago in a desperate attempt to repatriate before the airports closed for good. In times reminiscent of war time evacuations, the scramble to reach home was quite chaotic.
VC Reps – a New Model
A year on and the organisation has turned what was a complete halt to their work to its advantage and has begun the recruitment and training of local volunteers within the regions where they work. Called VC Representatives, these individuals are now part of an extended worldwide volunteer workforce for the organisation. To prepare for their new role, each VC Representative has been through our intensive 4-month Venture training programme which was condensed to an online version. The representatives have also been given the chance to get to know one another through regular online meetings with our Dublin team where everyone discusses progress and strategy for their programme of work.
This is a major shift to our model of sourcing Irish people for international skills sharing and mentoring roles, but it is very much in line with our desire to assist with and empower local communities to ensure future sustainability. I think that COVID has helped us realise that any future intervention needs not just Irish and EU volunteers but also local people, many of whom now have the skills needed for the projects but lack the opportunity to volunteer.
EU Certification secured
The organisation too has not been found wanting with regard to exploring other avenues during this pandemic and has recently been awarded full EU certification as a volunteer sending organisation and successfully obtained two large pan European projects. One of these projects, Volunteering for Humanity, has given us the opportunity to partner with 3 other European organisations with the aim of promoting volunteering for humanitarian aid projects and, in particular, the opportunities to do so via the EU Aid Volunteers programme.
The other EU project that we are proud to be part of is VIVID-T – Technical Assistance in Humanitarian Response, Ensuring Valuable International Volunteering and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities’. This project aims to create a community of practice made up of EU organisations all working towards disability inclusion in humanitarian action and volunteering. Our online staff training now promotes disability awareness within the volunteer sector as we work towards more inclusive volunteering.
Venture Training Ongoing
VC continues to offer its respected volunteer training programme called Venture using online platforms with the next training scheduled for September this year. We are excited about opening up our training to a wider audience, as we hope that hosting the training online will improve accessibility to our courses.
If you would like to investigate further as to whether international volunteering might be an option for you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org