Sunday, September 19

Volunteering in a pandemic: an “exchange” to combat loneliness and discover that “there is another reality”

Esther is 51 years old and wanted to do her “two cents” when, from one day to the next, they forced us to stay in our homes when the state of alarm was declared by COVID-19. Maruchi, 82, waited for her on the other end of the phone every afternoon. The illusion of the call, of the moment of the talk, was also so for Esther, she confesses. Your first volunteer experience, to Solidarity for Development, has exceeded all their expectations and has been a “very enriching” activity in every way. In fact, he maintains it and continues to exchange company with his assigned person. In such a fast-paced society, she found her moment, her “opportunity” to combat the loneliness of Maruchi who, although she chose not to marry during her life, was grateful for Esther’s call every day. As she is grateful other times for Maruchi. An “exchange”, as he acknowledges, and a “reflection as a society.” “The importance of caring for the elderly”, not in a paternalistic sense but as a way of “admiration” for them.

“There is a great demand for volunteering in Andalusia and the new law opens the way for many people”

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Because Maruchi receives what she has given during her life, caring for the elderly in her family, and Esther has obtained “personal enrichment.” “An extremely interesting experience” that arose at a time of crisis and in which the volunteer’s work became more difficult than ever, being impossible the physical approach, the caress, the direct company. The telephone has been the best tool to combat that feeling of loneliness that, in our elders, has been something inherent to the pandemic. “With everything already more or less normalized, I maintain that bond that has been created between us,” says Esther.

They have become intimate and made friends. “A relationship of equal to equal” since the end of March 2020, Esther insists, despite the fact that they did not know each other before all this. Now they see each other from time to time, although with the logical care of uncertainty still, but “from an equality”. Esther’s “social motivation” has taught her “solidarity between generations.” “It was also very good for me to talk to her at those times,” acknowledges the volunteer, who stresses that “we have to look at our elders, we have to take care of them, and we have to take responsibility because they have done it with theirs” . “We have to make that leap as a society. The circumstances that we live now are much more complex. We have less time, but it is a reflection that we have to do,” says Esther, who flees from paternalism with the elderly and advocates “to overcome that trend”. “To Maruchi, and to our elders, we have to look at them with admiration.”

For Marisa Vázquez, head of Solidarios para el Desarrollo in Seville, everything also changed in March 2020 and she had to give a great turn to the mental health, prisons, elderly and homeless programs that are developed in Seville. In the 2020 activity report The great challenges that Solidarios has faced in adapting to the pandemic are reflected. 4,747 people in a situation of exclusion have been assisted in the volunteer programs in Spain, both in group activities and in the weekly accompaniment carried out by 734 volunteers in Granada, Madrid, Murcia and Seville.

According to Marisa Vázquez, it has been “a very tough year, as we all know, at all levels.” 137 volunteers have passed during the year, he points out, with a solidarity peak at the beginning of the pandemic. “With the first confinement, many people called us and expressed solidarity with the situation, although the level has dropped later, it is also true, perhaps out of fear of a more personal encounter,” he explains.

Many phone calls, especially to older people, and WhatsApp groups where “we did artistic activities, mainly with homeless people or with some mental illness.” In addition to the so-called street routes, volunteers and homeless people share a participatory meeting space in the afternoons “when they have been able to do more things.” “In the prison program, by not being able to go to the centers, we have recovered the letters,” says the head of the organization in Seville.

But the complicated thing was being able to help without leaving home. “From one day to the next we had to change the chip, clean slate and start working from another perspective. There was no choice. The hardest thing has been the feeling of loneliness that all people have experienced. We constantly heard those words: I am alone. The deterioration of the elderly in this time has been incredible: not being able to go out, not being able to do normal activities, “he says.

That “feeling of loneliness so deep, the fear of contagion”, the “thanking us at all times”. They were “talking for an hour, because they didn’t talk to anyone else all day.” Vázquez points out that at this time they have been accompanying 39 elderly derived from the municipal social services of Seville, who “were already in a difficult situation.” The program was reinforced and the volunteers who arrived were assigned an older person, “so that they had two and loneliness was more bearable.” Some opening came last fall, and “in October and November they were already going out,” recalls the person in charge, “although some have ended up going to residences due to the physical or cognitive deterioration they have been developing. Not being able to go out as well It has been very difficult for people with a mental illness, “says Vázquez.

For the coordinator, the common feeling among the new volunteers, trained online, is “to realize that there is another reality and that it is very close.” “On a day-to-day basis, we don’t have time to stop,” she agrees. “Having stopped out of obligation, we have been aware of that”, says Vázquez, who is pleased to see the evolution of the person accompanied in some cases and with the peace of mind that, “as far as we have been able, we have tried everything “.

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