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Covid gets Finns volunteering in record numbers

Mental health services in particular have benefited from the increased number of volunteers.

Noora Frantzi puhelimessa.
Many volunteers were motivated by the desire to help others during the coronavirus crisis. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Record numbers of people in Finland are opting for volunteer work as a means of helping others during the coronavirus crisis, according to the results of a survey conducted by online volunteering service Vapaaehtoistyö.

The Finnish Association for Mental Health (Mieli), for example, reported receiving hundreds of contacts from people interested in volunteering during the spring.

The demand for places became so high that the organisation struggled to accommodate all the willing volunteers.

"Our work is demanding, so we have to provide solid training for it. We were in an awkward position in the spring in the sense that even though we had willing volunteers, the training couldn't be organised in the same way as before the pandemic," Mieli's director Sinikka Kaakkuriniemi told Yle.

It was however possible to train, mainly remotely, about 20 new volunteers as crisis telephone operators during the spring, Kaakkuriniemi said. For the rest of the year, the association’s local branches are hoping to train about 60 volunteers via a combination of contact classes and distance learning.

The coronavirus crisis has led to a huge spike in the numbers of people contacting crisis centres, with Mieli estimating that there were currently about 25,000 call attempts a month, and they have already received more contacts so far this year than in the all of 2019.

"Desire to help others"

Noora Frantzi, a sociology student from the southeastern municipality of Taipalsaari, was one of the 20 volunteers who trained as a crisis phone line volunteer for the Saimaa Crisis Centre in Lappeenranta.

"I was left without a summer job and noticed that volunteers were being sought. I thought it would be good to do at least something. Behind it, of course, is the desire to help others," Frantzi said.

She added that the most rewarding aspect of the volunteer experience for her is when she hears from a caller that their worries have been abated or even resolved.

"The most important thing for the caller is that I am available and ready to listen and to support. On the line you can really hear a wide variety of life stories and different worries. Volunteering has made it very clear to me how important it is for someone to listen," Frantzi said.

Vapaaehtoistyö’s survey also found that about 80 percent of people who started volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic want to continue even after the crisis is over, including Noora Frantzi.

"You can do this flexibly and according to your own perseverance, which is great," she added.

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