A guide for volunteers who wish to help secluded and at-risk people in crisis

As of late evening of March 12, a state of emergency was announced in Estonia. This situation has caused havoc in all of our lives. It is wonderful that you are willing to help people trapped inside their homes, and you are looking for ways in which you could contribute as a volunteer.

Before you begin, be sure to thoroughly consider in what ways and how often you are willing to volunteer. In today’s special situation, it is crucial that you and the recipient are safe and secure in your assistance. So, if you are at risk – e.g. you are over 60 years old or have a chronic illness – your only chance to help is through online environments and by offering companionship over the phone.

Here are some of the most important things you can do to keep your volunteering activities safe.

Who is a volunteer: A volunteer is someone who helps someone out of their own free will and without getting paid for it.

For a volunteer to succeed, it is important for the volunteer to be aware of the opportunities and limitations of providing help and volunteering.

Voluntary assistance must be provided in a way that promotes the dignity and independence of the beneficiary, and is sustainable for the volunteer. Assisting someone in the course of volunteering usually involves some degree of interference with the beneficiary’s private life. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that volunteering should always begin by establishing a trusting relationship and making an agreement between the volunteer and the beneficiary. Agreements should include the activities that are performed, how often assistance is provided, and how the costs of activities are covered. In today’s crisis, arrangements must be made, for example, by phone or e-mail (i.e. between the volunteer and the person in need), and certainly before the activities begin!!

What kind of help can volunteers provide to single elderly people and people at risk in a crisis situation:

  • providing company by phone or via online environments, chatting. If needed, you can help people reach the right phone numbers and contacts (e.g. a person needs help from a social worker but can’t find the right contact phone himself, needs to submit an e-document but needs guidance on how to do it, etc.). It is often believed that chatting is not a serious form of assistance, but in times of crisis, it is especially important for individuals to maintain and promote mental health. Before the conversation, the volunteer could think about what to talk about, and what to ask. For their part, the volunteer could provide topics of conversation that would help move the person’s mind away from the coronavirus and fears, help the person set goals, and find activities that he or she could do until the next telephone conversation. In order for a phone conversation to be useful, it should last at least 20 minutes.
  • Bringing food, basic necessities and/or medicines when the person cannot pick them up themselves. Help may also be needed for taking some vital equipment to be repaired, some items brought from the post box, and so on. Such activities always require prior agreement on how the billing is to be arranged. Ideally, it could be through e-banking or other virtual channels. If possible, the volunteer takes a picture of the receipts, sends them to the person in need, and the beneficiary transfers the money once the parcel has been delivered to their door. It is very important to notify the beneficiary of when and where the parcel will be left. Under no circumstances should the volunteer enter the room of the beneficiary during the virus! You could use a mask when coming to the door, as well as keep a distance of at least two meters from other people. Wash or disinfect your hands before and after delivery of the parcel. Remember not touch your face, mouth, eyes or nose with unwashed hands. See also recommendations by the Health Board. Also, watch the video on how to get the food to those in need in a correct way.
  • We do not recommend volunteers to use public transport when transporting goods, it is wise to walk, drive or bike. If you feel you need help for covering your travel expenses, discuss with the beneficiary beforehand, whether they can cover your travel expenses. The amount to be compensated must also be agreed in advance. For anyone joining the Kodukant Volunteer Partnership, we can cover the travel costs from our project. This requires contacting our coordinators in Harju, Hiiumaa, Lääne-Viru, Põlva, Pärnu, Viljandi and Võru Counties. You can find their contacts here. Let us know that you want to be a volunteer, you have a person whom you will be helping, and you are ready to become a volunteer as part of the Kodukant team. The Coordinator will provide you with instructions for action steps and travel expenses reimbursement as needed. In the case of long journeys (e.g. in sparsely populated areas), the issue of reimbursement of travel expenses should also be discussed with the municipal social worker.

Volunteers can also find help from some more in-depth materials at the Volunteers Gate: For example, it is worthwhile to get accustomed with good practices in volunteering.

There are six specially trained volunteer coordinators at Kodukant, who you can contact. We can provide you with further support (e.g. how to safeguard yourself as a volunteer, what activities are suitable for volunteers, how to get your travel expenses reimbursed), our contacts can be found here.

Before deciding what to do and how to proceed, we kindly ask that you carefully read through the hygiene requirements and find the most suitable opportunity to get involved. Be responsible, so that your actions are beneficial rather than harmful. Read more.

A broader picture of how to get involved as a social volunteer can be found in our guiding materials.

The activities of Kodukant voluntary companions are supported by the European Social Fund.