Before the story of the Volunteer Centre began to be written, a much bigger and scarier one had preceded. It was the one about the global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus that paralysed the whole world and whose effects fell not only on university students. Volunteer activities have a long tradition among students and teachers at the University of Ostrava. However, due to the circumstances of the COVID crisis in 2020, there was a need to formalise the coordination of volunteering activities in the form of a volunteer centre.
As of March 2020, full-time classes were cancelled, and students found themselves in a situation that no one had planned for. Distance learning was introduced, and students continued to have access to education. However, not the same as it used to be before. A wave of solidarity and mutual help in this unusual situation rose among fellow students. Soon they themselves began to approach the university management with one question: “Where can I help?”
The first volunteer activity that emerged from the idea of the students of the Faculty of Arts was sewing face masks in the university facilities of Building G. About a dozen students sewed face masks in their spare time using their own or borrowed fabric donated by students, staff, and people who wanted to help. The group soon expanded, and they moved to the Plato Gallery. KORONA-OVA volunteers sewed more than 3,000 face masks, which were given to more than 20 organisations, institutions, and health care facilities.
In April 2020, the new volunteering portal Pohámáme.osu.cz was fully operational, connecting skilled students with organisations, institutions, schools, hospitals, social facilities, and individuals looking for help. However, this website and its offers of volunteer activities were not the only ways our students could get involved.
Students from the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Social Studies started helping even before the announcement of their work obligations and got involved in helping at medical (and other) facilities. Their activities have not gone unnoticed, and in the autumn of 2020, two Rector’s Awards for Community Service were bestowed upon both groups. A total of 57 FSS students were involved in work duties or volunteer activities during the emergency, and approximately 250 Faculty of Medicine students made a coordinated effort during the spring pandemic wave.
Students of the Faculty of Arts recorded online religious services and songs for the faithful, while Ph.D. students and teachers provided online conversational Czech lessons to foreign students staying in the dormitories.
The pandemic also triggered new research from the Faculty of Medicine and the Department of Psychology, both of which sent out questionnaire surveys on the Psychological Context of Coronavirus in the Czech Republic (the project was coordinated and sponsored by the team of the Department of Psychology of the Faculty of Education and Psychology of the Faculty of Arts in collaboration with other academic and professional institutions) and Perceptions of the Current Situation Related to the Spread of Coronavirus Infection.
Volunteers, mainly from the Faculty of Education, were involved in babysitting the children of employees of the Ostrava University Hospital and the University of Ostrava. Students looked after the children of medical staff from the University Hospital Ostrava as a part of their practical work experience while offering individual tutoring. More than 30 children were involved in these reciprocal practices. In the Welcome Centre building (Mlýnská 5), an improvised nursery was created for small groups of children aged 6 to 14.
The company Residomo, together with the University of Ostrava, prepared for students the possibility of a paid temporary work opportunity where students of psychology-related disciplines called senior citizens and offered them advice and possible mediation of help. 20 students were involved and managed to call more than 4,000 seniors in the project Hello, you are not alone! Another project, Volunteer on the Phone, was an independent initiative of the University of Ostrava, where volunteers telephoned clients of selected social service facilities and offered seniors the opportunity to talk on the phone. They thus substituted for the volunteers who normally went to the homes for the elderly but could not because of the pandemic, as well as for the staff who could not spend extra time with the seniors for the same reasons.
Even in the time of relaxation, people still participated in activities that helped the area, so volunteering did not stop. The Volunteer Centre also offered its services after the strike of the tornado in South Moravia. Once again, a collection point was created in the Welcome Centre building of the University of Ostrava in Mlýnská Street, where not only students and academics but also the general public brought various hygiene items, such as tarpaulins for roofing, camping cookers, power banks, work clothes and gloves, sturdy large garbage bags, flashlights, torches, and work tools. Everything was loaded into several vans and transported to the most affected places in the region of Hodonín.
It was thus obvious that volunteering is important throughout the year. Since 2022, a stable Volunteer Centre has been established, which has become a solid part of the University of Ostrava’s Strategic Plan for the years 2021–2025. As a result, we will continue to connect our students’ volunteering activities with the people and places where they are needed the most. We would love to see you and welcome you into our ranks as well as at events for a better world.