FAQs volunteering What is VAO’s mission and how can volunteers help contribute towards achieving it? VAO’s mission is, ‘to enable people living in poverty to access affordable glasses and eye care’, and it is accomplished through different strategies, some of which require volunteers and some of which do not. To deliver on our mission, VAO has adopted 5 programme strategies. These are tailored to each country’s context, depending on how developed their eye health system is. The development of Human Resources for Eye Health – training new eye health workers, or upskilling existing health workers. This work is led by our in-country staff and partners and supported by volunteers from the UK and other African countries, sometimes remotely through online learning and mentorship. The development of infrastructure - including Vision Centres and local Outreach. Our in-country staff support the establishment of Vision Centres in partnership with the local hospital and health authorities. This includes training on all aspects of the vision centre operation, including stock and financial management and setting up supply chains. At times, international volunteers and/or staff are required to support with the training if the skills are not available locally. The integration of eye health services into the existing health national systems. This includes integrating Primary Eye Care into Primary Health Care and School Based Eye Health into School Health and Nutrition. The engagement and mobilisation of communities. This can include developing targeted social behaviour change communications, to encourage people to act to improve their own eye health. These improve people’s knowledge of basic eye health issues, the importance and correct use of glasses, and awareness of the eye health services available to their community. The contribution to an enabling environment in terms of policy reform. This can require a lot of our in-country staff time, to co-ordinate and advocate for the prioritisation of eye health with local government, other NGOs and community groups. Work to deliver these strategies is being undertaken every day, in each of our programme countries, by VAO’s local staff teams, working hard alongside local government staff (usually from the Ministries of Health and Education), other local partners, and health and education workers. Volunteering engagement from Optical Professionals support this work. This is how, every day in Africa, we strive towards our vision and delivering upon on our mission. How has Covid-19 impacted volunteering? During the pandemic some of our volunteers have been busy supporting our countries remotely by joining our volunteer workgroups. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that we have postponed the overseas volunteering assignments we had planned throughout 2020 to mid-2021, and it may also impact those planned for later in 2021. However, some of our volunteers have been volunteering for us from home. How the countries we work with combat the pandemic will impact the volunteer support we can carry out. For example, if international travel is banned or if partner organisations change their work to focus on Covid-19, rather than eye care, our overseas volunteer work becomes limited. The pandemic has also impacted our income, which in turn impacts on some of the work we can do and the need for volunteers. As life returns to normal, so too will our programme work and our need for more volunteer action, working remotely and overseas, but this is a constantly changing situation. The safety of our volunteers, country staff, partners and their communities and working within local restrictions to stop the pandemic are our first concern. Our volunteering opportunities are driven by the need and requests from our country partners, and their needs may have altered as a result of the pandemic. Please keep an eye on our website, social media, and e-newsletters for updates and opportunities for volunteering. What are the plans around volunteering overseas for 2021? We have volunteer workgroups who are creating training materials on various optical topics. In late 2020 and early 2021 a small volunteer team worked remotely with a national Optometrist to deliver upskill training in Paediatric Optometry in Sierra Leone. It is expected, as we get requests from our country partners, that we will require more volunteers to support our countries remotely. We will not be sending any volunteers overseas in the foreseeable future, as it is important that we protect the volunteer, our country staff and partners, the communities in which we work, and the charity. It is hoped there will be a few individual or small team assignments in late 2021, early 2022. Our policy is to plan volunteer assignments in response to requests from our country partners. All country partners will consider how volunteers can be used to enhance their programme. Where volunteers are required, the full costs must be included in grant/funding applications. Where the expertise is already in country, or another African country, we will recruit national/pan-African volunteers. Not only is this cost effective and has a lower carbon footprint, it is important that we create sustainable support. We hope to trial a Remote Mentoring Scheme in Sierra Leone and Zambia in late 2021, which will create new volunteer opportunities. From time to time we require members and volunteers to join a focus group, which looks at different areas of our work to explore its impact and how this could be improved. All volunteer roles are openly advertised on our website and social media. Volunteers will be able to apply for a place if they meet the eligibility criteria for that role. This will allow a fair recruitment system and enable us to select volunteers with the most relevant skills and/or experience. VAO will consider volunteering from professions outside of optometry, if: a) a need is requested from a country; b) it complements the country programme; c) we are able to recruit volunteers with the right skills; and d) it is safe and professionally appropriate for VAO to do this. VAO will continue to work with our country partners to develop Concept Notes and Terms of Reference for any volunteering support they request, agreeing upon the best ways to make volunteering as impactful as possible. We had 38 volunteer placements on overseas assignments in 2019/20. We had 18 volunteers working remotely from home in 2020/21 What volunteer support do our Country Partners normally request? All our overseas volunteering supports the development of local eye health services, so it is natural that as these local services grow and strengthen the need for support will change. This is why it is important that the VAO country programmes, along with local partners, drive volunteer engagement. They are best placed to identify the local need for support and these needs are changeable over time. Volunteering models change and VAO’s model is flexible to respond to changing needs. VAO is committed to volunteering and we anticipate that there will be greater demand for specialist needs, supplied by small teams and/or individuals, and in some cases, on longer-term placements. Most requests we have from our partners are for the provision of training eye health workers to help build assessible eye care services. We often receive requests from our partners that can be delivered remotely, which not only allows us to offer more support but is low in cost and carbon footprint. VAO are increasingly working with national volunteers, from within the countries in which we work, and regional or pan-African volunteers, alongside volunteers from the UK and Europe. From time to time VAO works with other organisations to deliver support that is requested by one of our country partners. VAO has signed a declaration to support the Global Standard for Volunteering for Development (see question below) and so our future volunteering roles will align to its recommendations for best practice. What is the Global Standard for Volunteering for Development? The Global Standard for Volunteering for Development is a standard of practice that volunteer-involving organisations can choose to adopt in order to align themselves with a global standard of excellence. It has been agreed globally, by several hundred stakeholders from across the Volunteering for Development sector. See the Global Standard for Volunteering for Development. See more about the body who developed the standard, The Forum. Do I need to travel overseas to volunteer? No, we have more volunteers who volunteer for us from home or their place of work, than volunteers who deliver overseas assignments. What do our Professional Volunteers do? The simple answer is that roles are identified by the country programme teams in response to requests from our country partners and within the professional scope and expertise of our volunteers. People can volunteer their skills, time and energy in lots of ways including fundraising, in-practice/store events, awareness raising and talks, campaigning and advocacy, offering technical support, creating training materials and more. Fundraising is a great way for volunteers to support VAO. Many will organise their own fundraising events, from sponsored walks and fun runs to virtual quiz nights and even sky-dives! Volunteers who work in practices or stores will often ask for donations, when making free glasses repairs for customers. To find out more about fundraising please email [email protected] Our volunteers follow us on social media and help spread awareness of our work, by sharing the content we put online with their networks. Support requested by our country partners is mainly in the area of training of eye health professionals in specific topics or skills, such as refraction and low vision. Therefore, some of our volunteers join workgroups to do baseline assessments and prepare training materials. Others may help us deliver training, usually practical based courses, in our partner countries. Some volunteers work with Universities in our partner countries to help develop their curriculums and enhance their student knowledge. If requested by country partners, we will support local outreach when it contributes to the National Eye Care Strategy for a country and is part of the health sector service delivery system. If there is not enough capacity within country to support this locally, we may deploy overseas volunteers, until such time that there is capacity to continue this locally. This may mean that support to local outreach is limited and may not always involve professional volunteers from the UK and Europe. It will depend entirely on local need. For more information on VAO’s position on outreach please read VAO’s Position Statement on Professional Volunteering (Summary) VAO’s Position Statement on Professional Volunteering (Full) All volunteer roles are advertised on our website and social media. Where can I read about VAO’s latest review and position on volunteering? Our volunteering model is periodically reviewed to reflect the needs of the charity and our country partners, as well as changing technologies and work models. The latest review into our volunteering model took place in 2019. For a full understanding of our latest review and our position on volunteering, we strongly recommend you read: VAO’s Position Statement on Professional Volunteering (Summary) VAO’s Position Statement on Professional Volunteering (Full) In your position paper you say ‘full costs must be included in grant/funding applications’ for volunteering. What does this mean? As a result of our latest review, we worked out the true cost of volunteer assignments to the charity and realised that these costs had not always been fully covered. The review working group recommended that the true costs for all volunteer assignments must be fully covered by programme grants/funding. This was approved by VAO’s Board. A grant received by our charity for a programme is usually a 1-3 year funding agreement that restricts funding to a set of activities within a country, with agreed outcomes. In some programme grants, costs can be built in for international volunteer roles, as long as there is a demonstrable need. In recent years donors have been less inclined to fund short-term volunteer placements as they are high cost, can be seen to have less impact than long-term placements, they have a high carbon footprint, and don’t always demonstrate sustainability. Through taking a country-led, needs-based approach and aligning our volunteering model to the Global Standard for Volunteering for Development, we are confident that we are able to demonstrate the impact of our work, we can deliver value for money, we can ensure a sustainable approach and we can minimise the environmental impact. Going forward, we will publish the details of all the main restricted grant funds we receive for our country programmes on our website, so everyone can clearly see what activities VAO is under agreement to deliver in the countries in which we work. How can I volunteer for VAO? To create a fair and open recruitment policy, and to match our volunteers’ skills with the appropriate roles, we advertise all our volunteer roles via our website and social media. If you wish to volunteer to fundraise, raise awareness of our work, or work for a practice who would like to support us, please see our website or email [email protected] Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes and Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) schemes have their own eligibility criteria. What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and what is Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV)? Within the context of volunteering with VAO, our CSR programmes are those developed in partnership with a company, with activities fully funded by that company. As a charity, VAO is always looking for new streams of support, partnership and funding. One of the recommendations of our review was to explore more partnerships with companies who have, or wish to, set up a CSR scheme. Our partnership with Specsavers UK, who fund our entire programme in Zambia, is a good example of a CSR programme. Some CSR programmes may include Employer Supported Volunteering. ESV brings together the employer (as part of a CSR programme), the volunteer (an employee or consultant of the employer); and the volunteer involving organisation (a charity or community group); to deliver a set of activities, fully funded by the employer, that achieve agreed outcomes. I have completed the Volunteer Development Programme and was hoping to be placed on an overseas assignment. When will I go? VAO has always made clear that undertaking the Volunteer Development Programme (VDP) does not guarantee you a placement on an overseas assignment. This is because demand is created by our country partners and we only deliver assignments to match that demand. In addition, we only recruit volunteers who have the appropriate skills and experience to deliver the overseas assignment. Due to several factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, we are currently not offering our country partners volunteer engagement from volunteers outside their own country. Once the pandemic has passed, if the need arises for overseas assignments and the work is covered under a grant we will advertise overseas volunteer opportunities on our website and social media. Often, we have volunteer roles that support our countries remotely. Remember that all volunteer roles are advertised on our website and social media. Might more overseas volunteer roles become available if VAO develops programmes in new countries? Possibly. This would depend entirely on the country context and the evolution of its eye care services. What training do you provide for volunteers travelling overseas with VAO? We are in the fortunate position to have a good pool of supportive volunteers who have attended our volunteer training programme; some of these have been on previous overseas assignments with us. However, all volunteers going overseas, including ones who have previously volunteered with us, undergo some pre-departure training to prepare them for their specific role. Any volunteers we recruit who have not attended our volunteer training programme will have bespoke training to help them understand their role as a volunteer within VAO and what is expected. All volunteers will receive training on our policies and where appropriate undertake safeguarding training. When we recruit volunteers to deliver overseas assignment, we make sure they have appropriate professional qualifications, skills, experience and professional registrations, to deliver the assignment. We do criminal record checks on all volunteers travelling overseas. Post-covid, additional requirements may be in place to safeguard our volunteers and the countries they are travelling to. There is a fundraising minimum amount for overseas volunteer roles and this will be clearly stated when we advertise, so you will know the amount before you apply for the role. How can I volunteer to be a Remote Mentor? Remote Mentoring is a new scheme, subject to funding, we intend to trial with a group of Optometry Technicians in Sierra Leone and Low Vision Trainers in Zambia in 2021. Once we are ready to go ahead with the trial, we will be advertising the scheme with instructions on how to apply as a volunteer mentor on our website and social media. How can volunteers stay connected with VAO? Volunteers can stay up to date by following our social media accounts, signing up to our e-newsletters and visiting our website. Our newsletter, website and social media will be regularly updated on the work we are doing and the achievements in the countries we work in. We hope this will keep members and volunteers engaged, be an incentive to tell others about VAO’s work, and to get involved in other ways. Why is Membership important? It is very important to us that you are a Member of VAO. It is a good way to be involved with the work of VAO and to stay up to date. Membership is a valuable way to ‘help the world to see’ via regular subscription fees which support our charitable activities in Africa. I have volunteered previously with VAO and friends, family, colleagues are asking to sponsor me again. What can I tell them? If you know people who are interested in supporting our work, that is great news! Given current circumstances it may be some time till volunteers are needed for overseas projects. As such, why not do a sponsored event in the meantime? You could do a sponsored walk, run, swim, cycle or even space-hop for VAO. You could run a virtual quiz with friends and family or a virtual film night and ask for donations that are the same price as a cinema ticket. Any fundraising you do helps raise awareness of our work and it gives us the funds to continue delivering on our vision and mission, now and long into the future. You can assure everyone that any donation they make to VAO will have the same impact, whether you personally are going on an assignment or not. Please share some of our Real Stories to show the changes brought about in people’s lives thanks to donations made by generous supporters. I have been approached by an overseas organisation that has requested volunteer support from VAO. What should I do? It is important that you refer requests such as these to VAO’s Professional Volunteer Coordinator (see contact details below) so we can keep track and plan the most appropriate response. All our work is guided by our global strategy, and each country programme has its own strategy that feeds into this and is designed to align with and support the National Eye Health Strategic Plan for that country. If you are approached by a potential partner, or you have an idea for a project and you are not sure whether it fits within our strategy, please get in touch to discuss it. We understand that sometimes there may be a need for a one-off project that responds to an immediate or pressing need but may be difficult to fund through a traditional grant. We would call this an Unfunded Programme Assignments (UPA). We will consider supporting an UPA if it meets the criteria outlined in: VAO’s Position Statement on Professional Volunteering (Summary) We will publish more guidance around UPAs soon. Professional Volunteering Coordinator – Judith Trigg: [email protected] I still have questions, who can I contact? Please email [email protected] in the first instance. Please remember volunteer roles will be now be openly advertised on our website and social media.