Young volunteers help protect the community from COVID-19
When the COVID-19 vaccinations became available in Kosovo, it was the youth who supported their elders to protect themselves.
One year and a few months after the first COVID-19 case in Kosovo, the vaccine was rolled out in designated vaccine centres. In Prishtina, the “1Tetori” Sports Hall was transformed into Kosovo’s main vaccination hub. There was so much demand for vaccines that medical staff could not handle it alone.
Together with its partners UNICEF in Kosovo mobilized young volunteers to support in the vaccination campaign. Niman Bardhi, from the Ministry of Health coordinated the initiative.
“Since the first week of vaccination, we had young volunteers engaged to support elderly people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This was a great support when there was a big wave of elderly people registered to get vaccinated. This support lasted around two months, with some volunteers, being substituted with new volunteers, over the time”, said Mr. Bardhi.
Many of the young volunteers were future doctors from Kosova’s Organization of Medical Students who were mobilised by the NGO “Peer Educators Network, PEN”. These volunteers accompanied elderly people through the registration and vaccination process and monitored their condition after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Erona Osmani, 24, and Miri Këpuska, 23, both sixth-year students at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Prishtina, volunteered at “1 Tetori” Sports Hall.
“Without everybody’s help, the pandemic will not end,” Ms. Osmani said. “This was the main reason I wanted to contribute at least a little bit in dealing with this pandemic.”
She also cherished the opportunity to work with older patients.
“Some of them had chronic diseases and they were barely able to come to the vaccination centre. They were very grateful when they received help from us,” she said.
Mr. Këpuska agreed that building relationships with the people coming to get vaccinated was a special experience. He said that at medical school, students didn’t have many opportunities to communicate with patients.
“This experience has reinforced the humanitarian aspect of working as a doctor – how to approach patients, how to behave, what to say and how to respond to their needs; these are the best practical lessons we learnt”, he said.
Young people, willing and ready to help
Mr. Bardhi, the manager of the medical team at the vaccination centre in Pristina, said the volunteers were as valuable as the professional medical staff.
“In every task delegated to them, so far it has not happened that one is not performed accurately… I am extremely pleased with their performance and contribution “, he said.
“This is an indicator that we have generous and responsible young people who can be entrusted with tasks like this.”
With support from UNICEF, volunteer work in Kosovo gained recognition as work experience since 2016, when the Administrative Instruction on Youth Voluntary Work was approved. UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports created the first match-making platform www.KosovoVolunteers.org for CSOs and young people seeking participation in voluntary engagement. Today there are 11,901 young people registered on the platform, 2,115 CSOs and other informal groups, and 409 volunteer opportunities have been created.
Ms. Osmani, the medical student, said that opportunities to contribute and learn as a volunteer were extremely important, because, in addition to strengthening young people’s professional skills, these experiences also give them a chance to contribute to their communities.
“There is no price that pays for service and the result of the humanitarian work. The work should not be based only on payment but on how you can help others,” Ms. Osmani said.
Mobilising volunteers is one of many ways UNICEF continues to support Kosovo institutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect vulnerable people affected by the virus. This support will continue.