On 30th January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a statement citing a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’, the emergence of a global coronavirus pandemic. This novel virus has ripped the very fabric of our societies and hailed a time of unprecedented global impact. Previously specialist language in virology and economics, unknown by the majority, has become commonplace, as we all try to keep up-to-date with news and developments in policies and practices at home and across the world. Our economic, social, physical, individual and collective spheres have been trampled. None are immune, and whilst the impact on some aspects of life are immediately visible there are others which will come to the fore in the future. Unfortunately the late focus and lack of immediate, proactive, consistent input could be their undoing.
The New Normal and ‘Invisible’ Impact
The implementation of practices designed to keep ourselves, our neighbours, and our loved ones safe have demanded a halt to travel, to visiting friends and families, and to holidays in our home countries and abroad. The impact of this halt to travel has completely eliminated vital volunteering and unfortunately this has put a stop to the necessary flow of finance and practical assistance hours to projects supporting some of the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems around the globe. These changes, designed to maintain global levels of health and safety, and to stop the potentially fatal spread of the coronavirus, have created a ripple effect of potentially catastrophic proportions, the effect of which has the potential to be felt by vulnerable communities and species for years to come.
Social distancing, the shielding of vulnerable individuals from possible infectious contact, the furloughing of large swathes of the employed population and a multitude of adaptations to solo and family life all offer levels of protection against the virus but these changes represent additional challenges for environmental projects dependent on the travel industry, a stable income, and on an un-threatened local population. In some countries financial support has been offered to assist individuals and organisations through this period but this is not a one-size-fits-all situation and not every person or project or group is able or even eligible to access this, unfortunately there are too many gaps which individuals and smaller organisations can fall through.
NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and volunteer supported conservation projects often work on the margins of financial solvency as they pour resources into their ecology work and at this time the lifeline of, often limited, financial support has been cut. Communities working to improve the habitats and lives of the plant and animal life in threatened areas are left to deal with not only the threat from Covid-19 but the desperate threats to their environment. Whilst many in the world, understandably, hold tight to recent environmental gains brought about by the reduction in air travel, there is a consequence. Every action has a further reaction and for the many projects across the world the reaction to this crisis is a dramatic reduction, for most a complete cessation, in their ability to finance their work.
Assessing and documenting endangered animals, patrolling large areas of land, coast and sea to deter poachers, and a focus on the protection of vulnerable flora and fauna all costs money. Unfortunately, with the increase in personal instability comes the higher potential for people to opportunistically turn to vulnerable habitats to supplement their dwindling finances and food stocks. Poaching, for both food and sales, has the potential to become a viable survival mechanism for many and equally the potential to decimate ‘desirable’, and therefore vulnerable, species.
Any progress made in past years by projects ensuring the survival of particular species and educating people into looking on their native ecosystems as valuable ongoing places to co-exist with, rather than destroy for immediate gain, will be eradicated in the face of this new situation. The likely increase in demand for support and the loss of volunteers, with their ability to offer resource hours as well as the loss of their vital payments, is sadly as much of a death sentence for these guardianship projects and as the virus itself can be.
As a not-for-profit company, WorkingAbroad Projects has supported conservation and community development organisations around the world for the past 23 years with their recruitment of volunteers and interns. For many of the projects, the relationship we have co-created over that time represents their ability to generate income and their means of advertising their opportunities. WorkingAbroad provides a free platform for projects to get their work out into the world, an initial point of contact, and an income stream – a means through which they can receive the visibility they need and the support and accolades they so richly deserve.
As a small, partner-led organisation, we ensure that the entirety of the volunteering contribution goes to the projects. Our income is derived from the initial administration fee on each booking and, whilst this puts us in a currently unprecedented and precarious financial position, is done this way because we believe in our environmental, community-led, collaborative model rather than a finance driven model. The impact of the loss of our platform would be catastrophic for our partners and, for some of them, we are their only means of promoting and driving their volunteer uptake. Making a positive social stand, WorkingAbroad has currently furloughed 3 out of 4 of its staff on minimum hours to ensure their social and financial well-being, and to maintain a level of hopeful continuity and longevity for the company and its partners. To lose this vital connection at this time being an untenable loss of moral to all.
Giving Hope – How can you Help?
At this unprecedented time, financial donations are in desperate need and can ensure the ongoing nature of projects, the livelihoods for project workers, and can ultimately offer a future to the plant and animal life which so richly deserves our support. Financial contributions are paid directly to our partner projects and are gratefully received no matter how large or small. After all every penny contributes towards supporting local people with an income and provides projects with the capacity to continue their vital work. Without donations there is the very real possibility that projects will collapse entirely. A year is a long time to be waiting for the next influx of capital and an injection is needed now, to keep everyone afloat. The very real threat to these ecosystems is happening now, so our action needs to be immediate.
To make a donation to any of our project partners, please click here to donate under PayPal – and remember to write in your reference which project you would like the donation to be given to. It should be the project name so e.g. the Pacific Sea Turtle Project, Costa Rica.
Bookings for the Future
Whilst 2021 might seem a long way off, time continues to tick away and it will soon be upon us. Consider taking a volunteering break next year and booking a solid chunk of time to fully immerse in the experiences that these opportunities have to offer. Doing this will ensure a future for these worthwhile projects, an enlightening future adventure for you, and booking now will provide them with hope. Hope at this time is as much needed as a vaccine for their souls as a physical one is needed for all our bodies.
WorkingAbroad has the majority of its projects and dates now open for bookings until August 2021, which will give ample time to bridge the gap between this year’s uncertainty and next year’s adventures.
To make a booking for 2021 check out all of the volunteer opportunities here – and don’t hesitate to let us know on email@example.com if you want to join or have any questions about a particular project.
In This Together
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, in many countries, there has been an outpouring of acknowledged gratitude, and understanding for the work that is done by health, services and key workers to keep communities and societies together. Waves of appreciation have been felt by the masses leading to public demonstrations of thanks, and those waves now need to extend beyond the reaches of close community to a visceral understanding that the global community is real, and that the need to reconsider and stretch the boundaries of who we think of as ‘neighbours’ has been categorically proven by this virus.
Coming together to pledge support to the people who are keeping different places on our planet safe during this unstable time is more important now than it ever has been. When travel opportunities reopen and we all get to see the world beyond our four walls again we need to know that it is all still there to be enjoyed and that we have played our part in ensuring its survival beyond this coronavirus dominated year.
Know that in doing so you are giving more than just money and booking more than just a volunteering experience. At this time you are offering hope for a viable and safe future to the many individuals, projects, land and sea species, in fact these entire beautiful ecosystems, that make up our precious interlinked, inter-community planet. In addition to that you are helping Working Abroad to pass through this ‘Covid-19 phase’ and come out of the other side, not unscathed but able to offer its continued support to its project partners and, together, make the positive difference it always has.
by WorkingAbroad blog writer, Rae Hadley