A schoolgirl in Myanmar back at school.
©VSO/Nyan Zay Htet

2020: The difference you've made

We want to thank the volunteers and supporters who have given us hope this year, despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic.

For many of us, 2020 has been the most difficult year in living memory. The pandemic has changed all our lives in unexpected, far-reaching ways and coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on so many.

However, for every moment of hardship, there are reasons to be hopeful. We’ve seen communities come together, rising to the challenge of the pandemic and life under lockdown, and a huge resurgence of volunteering and public-spiritedness.

As our film shows, volunteers have made a vital contribution this year. Thanks to them, and the generous response of VSO supporters to the Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, we reached a record-breaking 15 million people over the course of the pandemic. 

Whether it’s delivering meals to the isolated, providing safe spaces for vulnerable women, ensuring children continue their education or sharing life-saving health information to people who would otherwise be left behind, volunteers are proof that our shared humanity will always triumph over adversity.

Stories of hope in the dark

Delivering meals to those in need

When the government began advising people to self-isolate, Molly Bufton Stear, 22, decided she wanted to help. She set up a free delivery service of homemade meals to 45 vulnerable residents in her hometown of Kenilworth, UK. 

Molly developed the skills to help her own community from joining VSO’s International Citizen Service (ICS). Molly spent three months in Zanzibar, Tanzania, last October, helping to support youth employment. 

Molly has now delivered 2,500 meals to people in need and been awarded a Points of Light award.

“I am so grateful for the recognition and to be receiving this amazing award!” Molly said.  “I am so thankful to the volunteers that are continuing the ‘Molly’s Meals’ service, and for everyone who has supported it along the way.

"I know there are so many people doing amazing things and I hope this community spirit continues on into the future.”

“Now, people with disabilities know what to do to keep safe”

Twenty-six year old Lukas Mulatu, from Hawassa, Ethiopia is determined to do what it takes to protect his community from the effects of the pandemic. 

Lukas broadcasts important messages about coronavirus to his community.
Lukas updates everyone in his community with the latest facts and figures, to keep them safe and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Lukas has been coordinating a team of 20 volunteers, starting by organising street shows, putting up posters and sharing announcements on the local radio about essential coronavirus information.

Lukas then brought in the help of a sign language translator, who has been able to communicate with Deaf people in his community, and ran additional training sessions for 120 people with disabilities to share information about the virus.

“Now people with disabilities know what to do to keep safe,” says Lukas. 

Lukas is also recording and responding to cases of gender-based violence, with training to support those who are vulnerable and most likely to face gender-based violence during this time. Training was given to 50 people with disabilities, 25 sex workers and 30 homeless children.

Lukas said, “I feel proud that I can train people on gender-based violence during the pandemic, when it’s most needed. Volunteering is what I want to do with my life.” 

Supporting girls stuck at home

Bimala pictured in her community where she has been supporting girls during the pandemic.
Bimala mentors 21 younger girls, providing emotional support during this difficult time.

In Nepal, 20-year-old Bimala Adhikari is a local volunteer who has made a world of difference to the girls she mentors during the pandemic. Based in Lamjung, a district in central Nepal, Bimala mentors 21 younger girls, her ‘Little Sisters’, on VSO’s Sisters for Sisters’ Education programme. Bimala has continued to check-in with the girls in her community throughout the pandemic.

This has proved particularly important at a time when children are spending more time at home, with reports indicating an increase in child marriages and child trafficking

“Due to the nationwide lockdown, we were unable to meet the Little Sisters face-to-face as some of them live far away,” says Bimala.

Instead, she stayed in touch with the girls via telephone, championing and supporting these girls at a time when they were isolated and at risk.

“I was able to [continue to] visit the Little Sisters that lived close, maintaining all the precautions like wearing face masks and practising social distancing,” adds Bimala. 

Among them is Ishya*, 18, a former school drop-out who returned to school thanks to Bimala’s help.

Ishya’s parents previously had not been able to afford school fees. Instead, she spent long hours completing household chores. Bimala petitioned the school to waive Ishya’s tuition fees. Through VSO, Ishya received stationary, textbooks and school uniform and began to do well in her studies.

“Many girls in my community are going to school and paving their way to a bright future,” says Bimala.

VSO needs your support

As we enter the giving season, if you’ve been inspired by the remarkable achievements of VSO volunteers, please consider donating what you can to VSO. Whatever you can afford, your gift will help us continue helping millions more people in need.

Donate now

Read more

Community and VSO volunteers setting up the disaster risk management committee
VSO/Nyan Zay Htet

Setting the standard in global volunteering

Until now, although good practices and methodologies have existed across the volunteering sector, there has been no globally agreed set of standards. Together with the International Forum for Volunteering in Development, VSO has launched the Global Standard for Volunteering.

Community volunteers in the field to conduct surveys after Cyclone Idai.
©VSO/Peter Caton

The power of us - The state of the world's volunteerism

Volunteering is too often badly misunderstood. Too often, it is seen as a “worthy” activity undertaken by people with time on their hands. However, it really is a fundamental part of any country’s development journey and when done properly, it can be a powerful tool.

Mike Barnes

How tech is helping improve learning outcomes: Mike Barnes’ story

In 2017 Mike Barnes, an ex-primary school headteacher, joined VSO’s Unlocking Talent project in Malawi, providing students with tablet computers loaded with local language courses in numeracy and literacy. Read how he helped improve learning outcomes for thousands of children.