Volunteering During a Pandemic

October 05, 2020 by Stefanini

Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, at Stefanini we’ve been determined to ensure our CSR initiatives continue to make a positive difference to society. The pandemic has posed logistical challenges when it comes to coordinating these, but it also means that our employees’ efforts have become even more valuable.

Earlier this year, the Stefanini Institute adapted its approach by devising and delivering a Microsoft Office training program to disadvantaged young people in Romania remotely.

This was followed by 12 volunteers – both Stefanini employees and external participants – providing online English, French and German tuition to young people in Galați, in eastern Romania, in partnership with the NGO “Fundația Inimă de Copil” helping improve their language skills at a time when schools have closed.

We caught up with five of the participants to learn about volunteering during a pandemic and how to make a difference during challenging times.

 

1. Mihai Dănilă, Support Engineer, Stefanini EMEA

How would you describe your experience as a volunteer in Stefanini’s online language tuition initiative?

Supporting Stefanini’s online language tuition efforts has been a hugely rewarding experience. I’ve been teaching English, holding online video calls every Thursday morning for around an hour.

Initially, the sessions felt quite challenging because I had quite a range of ages and abilities in my group.

I’ve been able to manage the sessions by setting everyone a target of learning how to use at least one new word or phrase confidently by the end of the class, so everyone can feel like they’re progressing regardless of their current level.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering?

The main thing I’d say is that they should go for it. I really can’t stress enough how rewarding and valuable this experience this has been. For anyone weighing up taking part in a similar initiative, I’d strongly recommend they seize the opportunity to make a genuine difference.

Secondly, I’d advise them to prepare for challenges and stay positive despite these. While things won’t always be easy – my class spanned a fairly broad age range and not everyone had perfect internet connectivity, for instance – it’s important to remain patient and focused on finding solutions. 

What are your plans for volunteering over the months ahead?

I’d like to continue leading the sessions but this will be dependent on whether the participants will have the time as schools reopen.

Otherwise, I’m really open to other opportunities to volunteer. There’s a scheme in Romania currently looking to train up volunteer paramedics so I’m interested in exploring this, alongside any Stefanini initiatives, such as our tree planting efforts.

 

2. Oana Minea, Talent Branding Specialist, Stefanini EMEA

How did you get involved in Stefanini’s online language tuition initiative?

My HR colleagues had shared an email about the online language tuition program and I realized this would be great fit with my background and interests, as I used to tutor English when I was in high school and have always had a passion for supporting young people from underprivileged backgrounds. 

How would you describe the experience so far?

It’s been both rewarding and challenging. I’m working with a group of third grade students and ninth grade students, spending an hour a week teaching each group.

There’s quite a mixture of abilities in the classes and not all have had access to online tuition from their schools, so I’m very aware of how valuable this initiative is.

It’s also been really pleasing to see how my group has progressed – not just in terms of their ability to speak English but also their general confidence. One 10-year-old girl, who was really shy when she first started the lessons, brought her six-year-old brother to one of the classes and was encouraging him to take part. It was amazing to see how she’d gone from being too shy to speak up herself to encouraging her siblings to get involved in just a few short weeks. 

Have you been involved in any other CSR initiatives?

I took part in a Christmas gift box initiative a few years ago. I spoke to my niece, who was seven at the time, and she also wanted to take part and donated some of her toys, which I was really impressed by. It’s a great example of how the opportunity to make a positive difference is something people of all ages can be drawn to.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering?

I’d definitely advise anyone who can find time to volunteer to do so. It’s a great experience and I also feel that I’ve really developed personally during the process. You face challenges that are completely different to a typical working day and can find real fulfilment in making a difference.

What are your plans for volunteering over the months ahead?

We’ve offered to extend the scheme so that it runs alongside the normal school day if the young people still want to take part. It could be that we offer additional support beyond foreign languages, such as help with mathematics or science.

 

3. Mara Joavina, Modern Workplace (Microsoft 365) Business Group Lead Corporate Accounts Germany, Microsoft

How did you get involved in Stefanini’s online language tuition initiative?

I took Covid-19 as an opportunity to help others achieve more and to give back to the community that I was born and raised in. My husband works for Stefanini and mentioned the initiative to me as I could help tutor teenagers in German and English. Once we’d confirmed that people outside Stefanini were able to take part, I signed up and am now running three sessions a week, including English, German and a one-on-one English session for one of the teenagers who is at a more advanced level and is ready for an accelerated program.

How would you describe the experience so far?

It’s been an amazing experience and so different from my daily reality. Being able to interact with such young people and push myself to find creative ways to motivate and inspire them to continue school, has proven to be as intense as a board meeting. I am happy to see though, that after 2 months, these young people have become more curious and open to exploring the future and their professional aspirations.

Have you been involved in any other similar CSR initiatives?

I’ve never done anything exactly like this initiative before, but I’m a diversity and inclusion champion at Microsoft. Part of that role involves ensuring we are recruiting and developing young people from all around the world, with different backgrounds, cultures, aspirations and unique characteristics and that we empower them to share their views with the wider business community and incorporate their perspectives into our efforts to drive business growth.

What advice would you give to some considering volunteering work?

I think it’s important to realize that initiatives like these are about more than simply teaching a language, but also a chance to build people’s confidence and encourage them to raise their aspirations for their future careers and personal lives. That might feel like a lot of responsibility but it’s also why these initiatives are so valuable and so rewarding. Learning is a privilege and it’s not only about what you teach the students, but as important is what you learn yourself from this experience and how you can improve yourself as a human being.

What are your plans for volunteering over the months ahead?

I will continue to work with the students in a format that will allow us to help them with homework beyond English and German, such as with literature, history, or sciences.

 

4. Bogdan Gălușcă, Director  of Business Development, Stefanini EMEA

How would you describe your experience of Stefanni's foreign language tuition initiative so far?

I’ve been teaching English once a week to a class of five who are preparing to move up to eighth grade. It’s been a humbling experience. The young people taking part are from disadvantaged backgrounds and while their English is a bit behind where you might expect for students of their age, they desire to learn and improve outweighs that.

The sessions have been a great way to build their confidence – not just from a language perspective but also just to meet other people and learn about career opportunities that are out there. A lot of the young people taking part have likely never left the country and maybe never even left their local area, so these sessions can play an important role in broadening their perspectives. I have spent my childhood in the same part of Romania so I found it easy to relate with them. We often discussed how studying hard can be an important stepping stone to finding professional work and why they shouldn’t view anything beyond their capabilities.

Some of the young people taking part are viewed as at risk of dropping out of school, so these sessions provide a sense of what else is possible through continuing education.

Have you been involved in any other CSR initiatives?

There’s Stefanini’s backpack initiative, where we provide backpacks to pupils with the school supplies they will need at the beginning of term. I’ve actually just had a call with a client who has agreed to support our efforts in Moldova, where his team is based, by donating backpacks and supporting the program.

I’ve never actually done anything quite like the language tuition initiative, where there’s a long-term, direct engagement with the participants. It’s been a really grounding experience and has offered something you don’t usually get in the corporate world.

What advice would you give to some considering volunteering?

It’s important to be patient as there will be challenges when doing this kind of work. Because the young people taking part are based in the countryside, they don’t always have a great connection when joining video calls. It’s important not to take setbacks to heart – when you realize that you and the young people taking part in the classes are all trying their best in challenging circumstances, that’s an amazing feeling.

What are your plans for volunteering over the months ahead?

With schools reopening, it very much depends on the feedback the young people give in terms of what they’d find useful and what they’d have time for. I’d be happy to help, whether that’s continuing with English or some of their other subjects, such as physics, chemistry, mathematics or computer science.

 

5. Daniela Neaga, Project Manager, Stefanini EMEA

How would you describe your experience as a volunteer in Stefanini’s online language tuition initiative?

It’s been a really good experience for me. I’ve been interested in tutoring French for a while so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a start and develop my skills as a tutor while supporting underprivileged young people.

What advice would you give to some considering similar volunteering work?

I’d recommend looking into how technology can play a role in making sessions more engaging. I’ve found a few language learning games online, for instance, that have helped me encourage some of the fairly shy young people to get more involved.

It’s also important to prepare for challenges. Not everyone who joins the sessions has a strong internet connection, some are very shy and some have just not turned up. I’ve learned a lot about overcoming challenges – these initiatives actually play a role in the personal development of the volunteers as much as the young people taking part.

What are your plans for volunteering over the months ahead?

I’m keen to continue. With schools reopening, it might be more difficult for the pupils to take part but if they’re looking for additional support with homework outside of the school day, I’d be happy to help.

 

Shifting CSR initiatives online is just one example of how Stefanini is adapting its business and services in response to Covid-19. To learn more, click here. 

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