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Red Cross and Red Crescent societies report massive surge in volunteer numbers in response to COVID-19

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Geneva, 2 December 2020 Hundreds of thousands of new volunteers worldwide have joined their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society this year, providing vital support to their local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Widespread increases have been reported across the Red Cross and Red Crescent network, with some of the highest figures reported by the American Red Cross (78,000 new sign-ups), Italian Red Cross (nearly 60,000 new sign-ups as part of its ‘Time of Kindness’ initiative) the Netherlands Red Cross (48,000 new sign-ups to their Ready2Help citizen aid network) and the Kenyan Red Cross (35,000 new sign-ups).

Smaller but significant increases were also reported by the Argentine Red Cross (1,000 new volunteers) and the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan (nearly 2,000 new applications). Even in Tuvalu, a country with no recorded cases of COVID-19, the Tuvalu Red Cross has welcomed over 130 new volunteers.

New and long-standing volunteers have dedicated their time to wide-ranging COVID-19 response activities, including: delivering essential food and medical items; transporting patients to health facilities; supporting with testing and contact tracing; providing psychosocial support to vulnerable and quarantined people; distributing personal protective equipment (PPE); and providing trusted and accurate health information to their communities. Collectively, they have reached tens of millions of people in nearly every country of the world, while also responding to hundreds of other disasters.

Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said* “This year, in response to unprecedented humanitarian need, the IFRC has witnessed equally unprecedented humanity and kindness – with hundreds of thousands of people joining the Red Cross Red Crescent family for the first time, all the while contending with the terrible impacts of COVID-19 on their own lives.”*

“Though the future can seem bleak and the world divided because of this virus, every individual action of solidarity, of peace, of lending a hand and supporting your community counts. Our millions of volunteers are a true light among the darkness. Ahead of International Volunteers Day, as with every day, we deeply thank them for their immense compassion and courage, and remember those sadly no longer with us,” said Mr Rocca.

In the first 6 months of the global COVID-19 response, the IFRC allocated over 120 million Swiss francs from the coronavirus emergency appeal to support 153 National Societies to respond to the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

Volunteers involved in the response are of all ages and backgrounds – teachers, parents, nurses, students, bankers, artists, potentially now unemployed or furloughed, young and old – and motivated by a common desire to serve their communities:

  • Tracy Kyomuhendo, a student in Kampala, joined the Uganda Red Cross in March when COVID-19 hit and a national lockdown halted her studies: “I joined because I wanted to sensitise my community about the virus and help protect them – some people here didn’t even think coronavirus was real. Volunteering has helped me build my skills as a person and also achieve my dream of serving humanity. It’s now part of me! I feel more connected with my community than ever before.”
  • Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir, a student from Iceland who received support in an isolation centre run by the Icelandic Red Cross when she herself contracted COVID-19 and who has since become a volunteer, said: “I wanted to give something back because the Red Cross was doing so much for me. I have a purpose. It’s just so good mentally to be around people and being able to help people in the same situation that I was in.”
  • Jason Lucas is a public health specialist and university lecturer from Grenada. He joined the Grenada Red Cross in September, lending his technical skills to help improve public awareness of COVID-19: “The world needs us now more than ever. With my background in public health it is my conviction to help my community and country. I’m honoured to be a part of this global team.”
  • Ludovica Pugi, an IT worker from Florence, started volunteering with the Italian Red Cross in March as a receptionist in a COVID-19 health facility: “The thing that makes your heart break is when a lady over 80 calls you asking about her husband, with whom she cannot speak. After this emergency I will continue my path with the Red Cross for sure. There are other pressing situations every day, even if we don’t realise it.”

As encouraging vaccine development news reminds us the home stretch is in sight, the spirit of volunteering is still needed more than ever in the pandemic. IFRC invites anyone considering volunteering to find out more on the IFRC website and to join a 24 hour live online event this Friday 4 December on TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – where volunteers from nearly all 192 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies will share their personal stories about volunteering during the pandemic.