Written by: Alyssa Villa

The Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) conducted its first-ever blended International Volunteer Service (IVS) Assessment and Sharing Session on November 12, 2021 at Park Inn by Radisson, Quezon City and Zoom. In attendance on-site are Ms. Nannette Repalpa, National Representative of France Volantaires together with Ms. Manal Rhinane, FV Volunteer and Ms. Merry Grace Bersabe, FV Admin Support; Volunteer Program Coordinators of KOICA, Ms. Sheena Balinsoy, KOICA Volunteer Program Manager and Mr. Kevin Bricia, Volunteer Program Officer; Ms. Maylyn Abubo, OISCA Program Officer; and PNVSCA Officials and staff while USPC, VSO Philippines, AVP, Forum ZFD, JICA, KOICA, UNV, GIED participated virtually.

The IVS Assessment and Sharing Session is conducted annually as a venue for volunteer program officers, coordinators and managers to share internal assessment of their respective operations including related factors affecting the implementation of their programs and activities in terms of resources, government policies, among others.  It is also an opportunity for the IVSOs to share good practices on volunteer management and strengthen coordination toward complementation of efforts in volunteer assistance.

Ms. Ela Victoria Sarmago, Chief VSO of the Program Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (PCMED) in her presentation of the overview of the one-day event said that the activity aims to review the partner IVSO’s progress in this time of the pandemic and to document good practices in volunteer management.  It also intends to discuss relevant information that will help enhance the process in risk analysis and contingency planning, identification of priority program areas for volunteer assistance and determine opportunities for collaboration and networking and information sharing for better complementation of volunteer assistance.

As input to the discussion, PNVSCA presented the highlights of 2021 IVSO volunteer deployment and activities summarizing the sectoral and geographical distribution of the in-service volunteers from the seven (7) partner IVSOs which continued provision of volunteer assistance during the year.  This was followed by the program updates from the IVSOs where the partners reported their respective accomplishments as well as the alternative activities they conducted in lieu of the limited number/absence of volunteers.  

On the sharing of program practices, USPC and JICA shared their risk analysis and contingency planning and the strategies employed in preparation for the eventual return of the volunteers.  In terms of managing volunteers during the pandemic, FV and ForumZFD talked about the challenges encountered by the onsite volunteers specifically in ensuring the safety not only of the volunteers but also the partners and the need to completely change the way of working e.g. facilitating meetings and events mostly online.  AVP and KOICA, on the other hand, described the pros and cons in remote volunteering citing some benefits such as being safe and convenient, easy access to learning materials and flexible schedule while some of the constraints were internet connectivity issues, difference in time zone and language-barrier.  A common practice for both onsite and remote volunteering is the need for a closer monitoring to provide guidance and support to the volunteers.

For the afternoon session, PNVSCA presented the consolidated volunteer deployment mapping which provided the indicative volunteer deployment plan of the IVSOs for the next 1-2 years.  Some partners, however, were not able to establish the directions of their programs as they are still finalizing their respective re-entry plans.  The IVSO then shared the possible sectoral and geographic focus for volunteer assistance including specific measures instituted to adapt to the current situation. The discussion to identify opportunities for collaboration and complementation focused on how the IVSOs can support PNVSCA in strengthening national volunteering and in enhancing, developing and creating long term plan for the creation of a national volunteering system. Comments and suggestions from the IVSOs were likewise solicited during the review the Office Circular No. IV s.2003 or the Guidelines in the Deployment of Foreign Volunteers to Development Projects for updating to keep it more relevant and responsive to the needs of the stakeholders.

Toward the end, was the status updating on the National Volunteer Month (NVM) and International Volunteer Day (IVD) celebration activities that IVSOs organized and/or co-organized with PNVSCA.

PNVSCA Executive Director, Donald James D. Gawe thanked the IVSOs for their participation and emphasized the importance of the activity to be able to assess how the volunteer service organizations were able to respond to the immediate and emerging challenges of the pandemic.  He also stressed the need to look back and see how to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the sector becomes resilient so that even in times of pandemic and extra ordinary events, the volunteering efforts should not be disrupted.  ED Gawe said that the real challenge now is to “get back on our feet” as soon as possible as we promote continuity of “business” for the voluntary sector.

The Agency strictly followed the health protocols and guidelines implemented in order to secure the safety of the participants and staffs. A total of 16 participants were able to attend in person activity while, 22 participated virtually.  

The author is currently the Volunteer Service Officer II of the Program Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.

Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering.