Voluntaris fragt … Sekamana Archimede, Executive Director des Rwanda Volunteer Network, zur Zukunft der internationalen Freiwilligendienste im Kontext der Covid19Pandemie in:

Voluntaris, page 316 - 320

Voluntaris, Volume 8 (2020), Issue 2, ISSN: 2196-3886, ISSN online: 2196-3886,

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316 DOI: 10.5771/2196-3886-2020-2-316 Voluntaris fragt … … Sekamana Archimede, Executive Director des Rwanda Volunteer Network, zur Zukunft der internationalen Freiwilligendienste im Kontext der Covid 19 Pandemie Im dem Format Voluntaris fragt … lassen wir Vertreter*innen aus Wissenschaft, Praxis oder Politik zu aktuellen Entwicklungen und Themen im Bereich der Freiwilligendienste und zivilgesellschaftliches Engagement zu Wort kommen. Internationale und entwicklungspolitische Freiwilligendienste sind von der Covid- 19-Pandemie besonders stark betroffen. Ihre Logik des „Ins-Ausland-Gehen“ wurde vorrübergehend gänzlich außer Kraft gesetzt. Im März und April 2020 waren weltweit Tausende internationale Freiwillige dazu gezwungen, ihren Dienst abzubrechen. Während Entsende- und Empfängerorganisationen gemeinsam mit ihren Fördergebern zunächst die Krise managen und nach Wegen der Aufrechterhaltung ihrer Strukturen suchen mussten, überlegt der Sektor nun, wie die Zukunft der internationalen Freiwilligendienste aussehen wird. Viele sind sich sicher, dass eine Rückkehr zum business as usual nicht möglich sein wird, selbst wenn die Pandemie einmal überwunden sein sollte. So hat beispielsweise das International Forum for Volunteering in Development1 Wissenschaftler*innen und Berater*innen beauftragt, alternative zukunftsfähige Modelle und neue Tätigkeitsfelder für entwicklungspolitische Freiwilligendienste zu identifizieren. Ergebnisse werden bis Ende 2020 erwartet. Das Rwanda Volunteer Network2 ist eine große Empfängerorganisation, die über langjährige Erfahrung sowohl mit internationalen als auch lokalen Freiwilligen verfügt und seit seiner Gründung mehr als 50 internationale Freiwillige aufgenommen hat. Das Netzwerk hat mit diversen Partnern im globalen Norden zusammengearbeitet und ist Mitglied in mehreren internationalen Freiwilligennetzwerken und -verbänden. Wir sprachen mit dem Executive Director Sekamana Archimede am Telefon über die Folgen der Pandemie für die Arbeit des Netzwerks und darüber, wie er die Zukunft der internationalen Freiwilligendienste sieht. Voluntaris: Before we talk about the Covid 19 pandemic, could you introduce the Rwanda Volunteer Network to our readers? What was the motivation to found it? Sekamana Archimede: The Rwanda Volunteer Network is an outcome of the UN’s International Year of Volunteers in 2001. The year before, Rwandan volunteer involving organizations and our government together with United Nations 1 Weitere Informationen siehe unter: 2 Weitere Informationen zum Rwanda Volunteer Network siehe unter: 317 Voluntaris fragt … Volunteers (UNV) put in place a steering committee to organize the International Year of Volunteers for Rwanda. I was part of this committee. As result of our exchange with many people from all over the world during these activities we realized that we miss an organization in Rwanda that promotes volunteerism. So, we started advocating the government to put in place such an institution. They founded the National Itorero Commission (Civic Engagement Commission), but things went very slowly between 2001 and 2003, mainly due to the lack of funding and because only four people worked in this commission. At that time, me and some other people set up a small organization to promote volunteerism and started to work closely together with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) from the UK and with UNV especially in celebration of the International Volunteer Day and organization of national volunteer conferences. After four years, we brought in other organizations and set up the Rwanda Volunteer Network. Our main aim was to achieve our own national volunteer policy and to have a government institution that supports volunteers. We achieved both goals. Also, our local volunteers should receive more recognition on a national level, which was absent until then. Today we have 118 member organizations, they mainly work in social protection, education and the health sector but also in agriculture and the IT sector. Rwanda Volunteer Network is also member of various international networks such as Good Deeds Day, the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and the Global Pro Bono Network. Which tasks does the network perform today, what services do you offer for your members? The main role of Rwanda Volunteer Network today is to build capacities of our member organizations within the whole cycle of volunteer management. This includes questions of placement, impact measurement, or the collaboration of local and international volunteers. We also support our members regarding their specific needs or gaps, for instance marketing, project proposals or baseline surveys for new volunteer programs. We connect them with companies or other skilled entities within our pro bono services program. Additionally, we organize workshops, meetings and conferences for Rwandan volunteer involving organizations to discuss new trends and progress in the volunteer sector. We bring in skilled national and international volunteers and place them in our member organizations where they work alongside with our local and community based volunteers. We were partnering with VSO in the past who sent volunteers to us and UNV. But after the financial crisis in 2008 things changed though we are still closely partnering in various activities. Currently we still work with a couple of partner 318 Voluntaris, Jg. 8, 2/2020, Debatte & Dialog Themenschwerpunkt: Engagement in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie organizations in the global North. But many of the international volunteers today approach us directly, since our network became known over the years. We ask them to stay at least one month, many of them stay for a year or even two. Which role do international volunteers play for the Rwanda Volunteer Network? To involve international volunteers into our activities was part of the idea of Rwanda Volunteer Network from the beginning. They play a crucial role when it comes to capacity building, for our members and for local volunteers, for example regarding the use of digital technology, online platforms or marketing. They are particularly important in terms of fundraising. As you know, North-South collaboration has always included to raise funds in the North and to bring them to the South. Furthermore, one of our main goals is to offer opportunities for cultural exchange between volunteers from the global North and our volunteers and communities in Rwanda. How did your member organizations adapt to Covid 19? What were the main obstacles for volunteering activities in Rwanda? When Covid-19 arrived at Rwanda we faced a total lockdown for at least a month. Some of our local volunteers were allowed to assist in specific areas in food provision and other things. It was very challenging in the beginning for volunteers and our member organizations a like, as they were not used to coordinate their activities solely online. But once they realized how to use the different chat rooms, webinar platforms and online meeting tools, things improved quickly. We have approached our volunteer coordinators and offered them training to use these technologies. However, I have to say, internet connection was often a problem, especially for those in remote areas were network coverage is insufficient. Not all our local community volunteers have smartphones. Hence, even though people started Whats- App groups and so on to provide community assistance, not all of our volunteers could receive the information in order to become active. Another obstacle was to organize enough personal protective equipment, such as facemask and hand sanitizer, for the volunteers. So, some of them were scared to go out. Our partner International Association for Volunteer Efforts connected us to Deedmob a Dutch Company which programmed for us a free of charge a “Coronahelpers” platform where organizations can post their needs for volunteers and also individuals can request assistance. People who have time, can offer their voluntary help on the platform. 319 Voluntaris fragt …Voluntaris, Jg. 8, 2/2020, Debatte & Dialog What are the consequences of Covid 19 for international volunteering? Most of our international volunteers left Rwanda when the pandemic started to spread. Only a few decided to stay. Consequently, most of our partners and donors have cut the budget for volunteering completely. They have shifted their funding to emergency relief. Capacity building of local volunteers is no priority anymore. So Covid-19 has disrupted the idea of international volunteering completely. We can think about new forms of virtual volunteering when it comes to capacity building. But the cultural exchange between the global North and the global South is based on personal encounters and direct experience. It can help people to understand what is trending in the world and to understand different contexts. For example, many volunteers from the global North, when they come to Africa, are interested in issues around climate change. Even though we discuss these issues in Rwanda on political levels, they will realize, that in many local based community organizations, you will hardly find anyone talking about climate change. They are concerned about social protection and education and to meet the basic needs of their beneficiaries. As a result, the volunteers form the global North were able to realize that the realities and priorities of people in Africa might be very different from theirs. And on the other hand, this direct exchange helped our local volunteers and volunteer involving organizations to understand the priorities and realities of the global North, which was extremely helpful in terms of fundraising or programming. Covid-19 has disrupted these benefits of international volunteering completely. You will never get the same results when you work with someone only virtually rather than sharing offices and carry out day to day activities together. Will international volunteering ever be the same again? What do you expect to be the biggest changes due to the pandemic? I think travelling will never be the same again, neither will be international volunteering. Not least because the economy of the people has changed. Where we sent 100 volunteers before, maybe now we will only be able to send ten. We will have to rethink international volunteering completely. First of all, fundraising will become more difficult without international volunteers from the global North. We will have to find solutions for that. Secondly, many people will not be interested anymore to travel abroad and stay for a long period of time. My guess is that due to the experience of the pandemic, volunteers will never again be willing to stay a year or two. We will have to adopt to the new trend and recruit and work increasingly virtual. That means we must rethink the way we use international volunteers; towards more integrated or hybrid forms of engagement. After one or two months on the ground, volunteers can be further involved virtually. This of course comes with other obstacles. We will have to make sure that the agendas of the volunteers and our organizations are matching, we will have to take time differences into 320 Voluntaris, Jg. 8, 2/2020, Debatte & Dialog Themenschwerpunkt: Engagement in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie account. We need to think about these issues from the beginning of our future programming. We already started to test these new forms of volunteering. Currently we have two Japanese volunteers who only work virtually. They built websites and develop social media strategies for some organizations. Apart from that we will also have to adopt and further develop our emergency policies. If something like Covid-19 happens again, we need to be prepared better. We need to develop new concepts of cultural exchange. How can intercultural exchange be successful online? This will be questions for the future of international volunteering. Do you see a positive side of the pandemic for international volunteering? Yes, at least it has raised awareness about the importance of technology and that it has to be a Human Right. Those people here in Rwanda who refused to use new technologies before, now were forced to get used to them. And they realized, even if you do not have budget for a meeting, you can organize one, while everyone is in their offices or homes. It will help our member organizations to plan cost effectively their activities in the future. So regardless of the location, organizations realized the benefits of digital technologies and will be able to apply them to future volunteer activities. Another positive point is, that we are now prepared and when we plan future volunteering activities, we have to make sure to include scenarios into our plan of actions in case something similar happens. Finally, our government has realized how important volunteers are due to the health crisis caused by the pandemic. I hope this will have long-lasting positive effects for volunteerism in Rwanda and that the government will remember when it comes to national budget planning.

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Voluntaris – Zeitschrift für Freiwilligendienste ist eine wissenschaftlich orientierte Informations-, Diskussions- und Dokumentationsschrift für den Bereich Freiwilligendienste. Sie richtet sich an Akteure aus Wissenschaft und Praxis und fördert damit den Austausch zwischen akademischen und anwendungsbezogenen Perspektiven auf Freiwilligendienste. Sie wendet sich an folgende Leser- und Autorenschaft:

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