The power of joint efforts in Peru
In 2017, the floods and landslides caused by El Niño Costero took Peruvians by surprise. Willingness to help was widespread amongst the population, but efforts functioned independently. Alexandra Infante, CEO of Ikigai Laboratorio Social, recalls: “That year just a few other organizations came together. We realized how important it was to work together.” Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and its effects escalated rapidly. This time there would be a quicker response: the creation of Juntos Nos Hacemos Cargo (JNHC).
On March 6th, the first case of coronavirus was reported in Peru. Ten days later, President Martín Vizcarra declared a state of emergency and mandatory social isolation. “We had been working on a campaign to bring hygiene kits to vulnerable communities,” says Vanessa Vásquez, executive director of Juguete Pendiente. «After the presidential message, we had a meeting with fellow organizations and decided to launch JNHC.» Bearing in mind the expertise of the entities involved, they asked themselves: How could we help as a social ecosystem in this situation? They organized their work in commissions: fundraising and donations, research, communication, mental health and virtual volunteering.
Fundraising and donations commission took the task of tending to the basic needs of many vulnerable sectors. «Since we had expertise in managing humanitarian aid, we focused on raising money, identifying communities and supplying them with hygiene and food kits for families, as well as medical kits for health workers», says Vanessa. Some of the participant networks (Soy Voluntario, Proa, MeUno) had areas of influence where they had been working for years and held a direct relationship with community leaders. This allowed them to design an effective delivery structure, guaranteeing aid where it was really needed. As a result, they accomplished all their goals: half a million, three million and five million soles.
Research commission’s task was to collect data on how affected communities worked and what problems they were having. “We had to collect this information to avoid going in blindfolded.” This first-hand research would allow the aid networks to be integrated and optimized, in addition to mapping potential future projects and observing the side effects of the crisis.
Communication commission’s work was a great challenge from the start since they had no prior experience on health emergencies. At the same time, there was very little information about the virus. Data regarding the needs of vulnerable groups also lacked. «At the beginning it was very hard, because there was a lot to communicate. Water wasn’t getting to human settlements and hospitals didn’t have the adequate equipment. We were very focused on advocating and making these issues visible,» says Jonathan Rossi, director of Casa Ronald Mcdonald.
When the pandemic started, a large sector of the population started experiencing higher levels of anxiety, uncertainty and depression. Plus, there exists social stigma to deal with these issues among many people. Mental health commission was coordinated by DeMentes, Dando+, Sonqo & Maqui and Fundación Calma. These organizations created the “Por mí, Por ti, Por el Perú” campaign. This was directed into three main axes: Communication, to position the importance of mental health, fight stigma and bring attention to the issue through media; National support, aimed at giving free psychological support through hotlines; and Support to the volunteer, to reinforce the spaces for conversation and reflection.
Virtual volunteering was crucial from the start. March is the starting point for many projects in Peru, so there were a large number of volunteers with no volunteering initiatives to participate in. The biggest challenge was learning how to capitalize on the knowhow in digital world. They decided to start digital volunteering with micro-entrepreneurs and primary school students, affected populations. Later on, community-based tourism was also identified as a weakened sector in need. To date, there are three ongoing programs bringing support on entrepreneurship, education and tourism.
Small and medium-sized companies represent 99.5% of formal companies in the Peruvian economy. In that regard, it was extremely important to provide care and support. «Guerrero Emprendedor consists of a training process for economic reactivation for micro-entrepreneurs affected by the crisis through digital channels,» tells us Mariana Iturrizaga, Specialist in Multi-stakeholder Partnerships of the UNDP. At all stages, they have direct support offered by volunteers that assess them. The program aims to create a virtual space where microentrepreneurs learn useful tools in seven weeks about: covid protocols, finance, marketing, management, and other elective courses. These have all been prepared by the allied organizations within the program. These alliances include private companies, universities and government entities such as the Ministry of Labour. To date, the program has more than 400 graduates, and has involved more than 200 volunteers. The third pilot over 700 new entrepreneurs signed up, and they are about to launch the fourth edition with new partnerships.
At the beginning of April, the Ministry of Education launched Aprendo en Casa, a learning digital platform to study from home. On that line, Guerreros por la Educación started with the purpose of accompanying children and youth to reinforce lessons they receive at home. They brought together a group of expert partners with proven methodologies to design classes. «We have worked with social organizations that provided content that has already been developed in math, reading and English,» says Ana Paula Albín, General Director of Proa. “We started the program with communities with whom we had already been working. We have put digital volunteers in the middle to be the teachers for these communities.” Today, the program has had four pilots in the cities of Lima and Cusco, with over 130 students and 77 tutors. They have recently signed an alliance with the Ministry of Education, adding up to over 4 500 new students enrolled in the program. Students and volunteers have responded positively, with 100% satisfaction rates, and eagerness to continue learning: «It is very cute. Boys and girls prepare with a backpack and sneakers to go to their computers.”
Guerreros por el Turismo responded to the severe effects COVID-19 had on community-based tourism. The program focuses on training tourism entrepreneurs with the necessary tools to face the current crisis, teaching them about: what is COVID-19, its effects on the industry at big scale, case studies from other regions and business sustainability. The tools have been developed through alliances with experienced organizations on the correspondent fields, including the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism. Through mostly phone calls, entrepreneurs have 2 weekly meetings to review progress and absolve any doubts related to what they learn with their tutors. So far, they held one successful pilot in the rural area of Puno with 277 entrepreneurs connected to 150 volunteers. Nowadays they are working on extending the program to other affected areas around the country. The three virtual programs have surpassed the initial expectations. «People selflessly join and seek to learn from you, and that you learn from them.» – says Gemma. “I believed that this double path could only be found in volunteering with physical contact, hand in hand. I have learned that you can also experience it in a digital community”.
“As JNHC matured, we wanted to empower people in the face of all these new challenges and new difficulties.» – Mariana points out. As projects began to unfold, they had to decide where JNHC was going in the long run, considering new connections. It is then that JNHC took a new direction: Perú Voluntario. Consolidating its alliances, this is becoming the first formal national volunteering network in the country, whose goal is to promote and integrate volunteering through existing platforms. Actions and projects will be better organized within Perú Voluntario. There is an element of citizenship on the agenda for civic education: “From the networks that are already being generated, we are going to strengthen the social fabric, something that has deteriorated greatly with the crisis. We want volunteering to be valued as an exercise in active citizenship, focused on overcoming social problems in a real way.” – says Jonathan.
One of the most valuable resources of Perú Voluntario is the friendship and commitment of the team that has shaped it. As Gemma says, “If I hadn’t found a community in my friends, it wouldn’t have been the same result.” As Vanessa points out, “The best thing of all is having friends who live and share your purpose. We have managed to cover lots of scenarios that a single organization couldn’t have covered by itself.” This common purpose has allowed institutionality and ego to be set aside. As Ana Paula assures us, “We know that the greater good is prioritized among us, and not so much the name of our organizations. The team is made up of ethical people with a very strong heart of solidarity.”
With the idea set in motion, a committed team, Perú Voluntario was just launched and seeks to join efforts in favor of a strong ecosystem for the future. Among the topics on agenda, these stand out: generation of exchange and sharing spaces, promotion of research, mobilization of resources for sustainability and professionalization of volunteering. All this will enhance what has been achieved and continue to improve the daily reality of many Peruvians. «Three years ago, we were four organizations in the face of the emergency,» – Alexandra recalls. “Today we are more than fifty, and we keep adding up!”.
For more information, visit www.peruvoluntario.pe