Managing the emergency: France Volontaires is working closely with volunteers, its member associations, and the authorities
Working jointly with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) and its member associations, France Volontaires has been committed from the start of this health crisis to ensuring the safety of the volunteers, as well as its teams, and to keeping the international volunteerism stakeholders well-informed.
On March 7, as a result of a first meeting with MEAE’s Task Force, and in accordance with its safety procedures, France Volontaires decided to activate its crisis unit and to prohibit international travel by its staff members and volunteers. France Volontaires also quickly adapted its operational plans to include regular distribution of health recommendations, the closing of Volunteering Centers to the public, and placement of all staff members on teleworking status. (Read the March 19, 2020 press release.)
Internationally, as well as in France, France Volontaires has focused on facilitating the implementation of MEAE decisions and a fruitful dialogue between stakeholders:
- France Volontaires’ Volunteering Centers and branches, in support of the embassies, were therefore mobilized to survey the volunteers and ensure their safety. Through its international network, FV is expediting the flow of information among volunteers, partner organizations, embassies, and the national authorities, as well as assisting with the volunteers’ repatriation process when needed. Volunteers—whether they have returned to France or have remained in the country to which they were assigned—will continue to benefit from France Volontaires’ full support. By working in tandem with the embassies’ crisis units, Volunteering Centers provide invaluable monitoring of the way health conditions are evolving in each country.
At the same time, France Volontaires has endeavored to foster accurate information and the coordination of international volunteer organization stakeholders in France. For example, as of March 11, in cooperation with the MEAE, France Volontaires organized a health crisis briefing for volunteering stakeholders and, in particular, those of Volontariat de solidarité internationale (VSI) [Volunteers for International Solidarity (VIS)]. This first exchange was extended by organizing seven geographic meetings which, with the participation of the managers of the Volunteering Center and other volunteer organizations, made it possible to review a detailed update of each country’s situation. Also noteworthy is the special meeting devoted to international civic service co-organized by France Volontaires and Agence du Service Civique on April 30, attended by 80 participants.
Volunteering Centers are fully involved in 25 countries
Repatriations and other urgent matters
To cope with this urgent situation, Volunteering Centers have been fully mobilized to repatriate French volunteers, whether they are at the end of their mission, in a vulnerable situation, or on a volunteer mission not covered by the volunteering services of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (trainees, unpaid staff members, etc). As a result of the backing and support of France Volontaires’ field teams, 548 volunteers have been able to return to their homes in France.
In addition to their close cooperation with embassies and consulates and their administrative procedures, some Volunteering Centers have also offered to assist volunteers with housing and transportation. In Peru, France Volontaires’ team offers a database listing the housing available in the capital that can accommodate volunteers passing through prior to taking their return flight. In the Philippines, the Volunteering Center can also provide accommodations in urgent cases, and accompanies volunteers to the Manila airport because the use of public transportation is prohibited. In Senegal, volunteers have been relocated to Dakar, and have benefited from emergency homestay accommodations.
France Volontaires’ priority: to provide support to volunteers and organizations
Providing support and maintaining close relations with organizations are the watchwords behind our Volunteering Centers’ initiatives. To date, no fewer than 1,426 volunteers have been supported, and 1,374 requests from volunteers, hosting and sending organizations (some of whom are members of France Volontaires’ platform), expatriates, and embassies, have been processed to date. Our key concerns have been amission adaptation, or simply support requests.
All available digital communication tools are deployed to assist volunteers remaining in the field, as well as hosting and sending organizations. In addition to personalized and individual support, Volunteering Centers offer volunteers a way to contact each other via remote access, providing regular opportunities for discussion and information-sharing. This is especially true in Ecuador, which organizes information sharing sessions among volunteers and among hosting organizations, as well as in Tunisia, with its “volunteer forums” that enable volunteers to communicate three times a week with the Volunteering Center’s team, or in Madagascar, where support groups meet once or twice a week. The goal is to give volunteers a chance to share their opinions about the current situation, and exchange their experiences, concerns, thoughts, and desires for commitment, etc. This is a good way for France Volontaires’ teams to better understand the impact that this crisis is having on the volunteers’ daily lives and activities. In Morocco and Ecuador, more formal discussion groups have also been formed, with thematic workshops (an on-line cooking course in Morocco, for example) and some creative or literary suggestions likely to strengthen relationships between the volunteers!
Promoting solidarity and participating in local initiatives
Volunteering Centers, which are firmly established in the partnering countries’ community and institutional organizations, are helping to promote local solidarity.
In Côte d’Ivoire, at the initiative of the Cercle français des affaires, France Volontaires has contributed to a donation of soap and hand sanitizers to two partner associations: Eau et Vie, which is at work in the Yopougon commune of northern Abidjan, and Imagine le monde in Gonzagueville, further to the south.
In Mauritania, the Volunteering Center is taking part in the initiative of Mauritania’s Ministry of Youth and Sport concerning the mobilization of young volunteers for the purpose of raising awareness about Covid-19 and assisting with food kit distributions. As an example, the Volunteering Center notably participated in the awareness and training session for unpaid staff prior to their deployment.
In Peru, the Volunteering Center is actively involved in the Soy Voluntario [I’m a Volunteer] platform and the #JuntosNosHacemosCargo [“We will beat this together”] campaign to help over 20,000 families in disadvantaged areas receive food aid (particularly those families benefiting from the assistance of French organizations, or those hosting international exchange and solidarity volunteers).
Volunteers who are committed
Worldwide, volunteers are keeping their commitments by adapting their initial mission as much as possible or to facilitate the fight against the pandemic.
Volunteers whose mission involves the health field and food security are obviously on the front line.
In the Congo, Guillaume, an international solidarity volunteer, is in charge of the Order of Malta’s clinic in Enyelle, in the northern part of the country. In particular, he takes in a broad awareness campaign in the various villages in that area. > Watch his video testimonial (in French)
In Guinea, Seny, a volunteer with the European initiative program, EU Aid Volunteers, is responsible for the safety and coordination of the World Food Program’s local representatives. The fight against Covid-19 is an integral part of his daily work: coordinating arrangements for the distribution of masks, gels, sanitary kits, thermometers, etc., as well as managing the vehicle fleet, access to the premises, quarantine of infected personnel, etc.
Other volunteers are also accounting for the dimension of the crisis in their commitments. Following are a few examples:
- In Mali, within the framework of the decentralized cooperation between Angers and Bamako, one volunteer delivered sanitary kits to six of the capital’s community health centers.
- In Madagascar, unpaid staff and volunteers of the association Grandir Dignement [Growing with Dignity] distributed emergency food and hygiene kits to 120 children under probationary supervision, or who had been released from prison, and to their families.
- In Tunisia, ten civic service volunteers (from Club Culturel Ali Belhouane, sent by Cieux de Mahdia, and from the Commissariat régional de la jeunesse de Mahdia, sent by the French department of Loire-Atlantique) mobilized for the regional campaign to collect donations in Tunis and Mahdia, as part of the fight against the spread of Covid-19, and also got involved in matters related to raising general public awareness of sanitary, health and social distancing measures.
- In Vietnam, two international solidarity volunteers, trained psychologists from Ecole des psychologues praticiens, are hosting an on-line psychological support unit for other volunteers based in Asia during this period. > More informations
See also: Video “Health Crisis: international volunteers remain mobilized worldwide”
In this video, volunteers from Cameroon, Congo, Ecuador, France, Tonga, Togo, and Vietnam tell us about their daily lives, explain how they adapted their mission to the Covid-19 situation, and share their vision of commitment.
”This crisis has strengthened my vision of commitment in the humanitarian sector. At first, I was involved in the area of development, and wanted to work in the health field, but in this period of crisis, I realize that isolated populations are even more so now (…). It is in a time such as this that humanitarian action assumes its greatest significance. » Guillaume in the Congo
“I had a choice between staying or returning to France. I preferred to stay because we want to do more, we want to go beyond the demands of our first mission, we want to help the community in other ways (…) » Annabel in Ecuador
Read other testimonials
Lucien, a doctor working on assignment with UNICEF in Cameroon, is helping to coordinate the response to Covid-19. He is mainly responsible for ordering incoming supplies, medicines and protective equipment, and community mobilization with Cameroon’s Red Cross
Alice, a volunteer working with the French Red Cross in Réunion and the Comoros, is primarily involved in setting up the ”Croix-Rouge chez vous” phone system that brings psychological support to isolated people, and also offers delivery of basic necessities and medicines