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MU Volunteer Centre celebrates two years, database contains thousands of volunteers

The MUNI HELPS volunteer centre is entering its third year of existence at Masaryk University.

Tutoring children and babysitting are among the main activities of MUNI HELPS volunteers.

The volunteer centre is primarily a network of about 4,000 volunteers, who can find out where their help is needed most through the web-based and mobile MUNI HELPS app. Sunday, 13 March 2022, marked exactly two years since this centre was established on the initiative of Rector Martin Bareš to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic. The centre’s activities are not only focused on Brno. MU volunteers also provide help in the South Moravian Region and throughout the Czech Republic.

In the first phase of its history, in 2020, the centre largely concentrated on the COVID-19 pandemic. It coordinated volunteer work at hospitals, on crisis hotlines, in nursing homes, and at other non-profit organizations; it also focused on babysitting and tutoring children, helping people with shopping, and delivering medicine and facemasks. A fundraising campaign rose nearly 2.5 million crowns for the operation of the volunteer centre.

In 2021 the centre continued to deal with issues related to COVID-19. At the beginning of that year, a vaccination centre was established. MUNI HELPS supplied volunteers, who prepared vaccinations, gave shots, and administered COVID-19 tests. They also helped at social service and healthcare facilities.

The centre also began offering non-pandemic-related help, especially after a destructive tornado struck South Moravia. In the affected villages, volunteers not only helped clean up debris but also babysat local children. Some volunteers with special skills, such as lawyers, grant writers, and IT specialists, offered their services. MUNI HELPS launched a fundraising campaign that managed to raise more than one million crowns for the affected areas. In October, the employees of the centre along with MU Rector Martin Bareš gave this money to village officials in Hrušky to repair the local elementary school.

The Summer School of Tutoring was also held for children affected by school closures and online learning. Two week-long courses were held in cooperation with the MU Faculty of Education. More than 30 volunteers took part. “We organized the summer school mainly due to the growing gaps in education levels between elementary school students. These gaps were caused by remote learning. At this summer school, we supported students from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether they were from socially disadvantaged families, immigrant families, children’s homes, or foster families,” says Markéta Koláčková, a volunteer coordinator from MUNI HELPS.

The volunteer centre received several awards in 2021. The South Moravian Region recognized MUNI HELPS for its social service work during the pandemic. Volunteers were awarded the prestigious European Citizen’s Prize and a prize from the governor of the South Moravian Region for helping clean up after the tornado in the South Moravian Region.

“I’d like to thank all the volunteers who have offered help over the past two years. We are very glad that our volunteer community is continuing to grow and that we are able to respond quickly to newly emerging challenges and get involved where we are most needed,” says Daniela Vonbauer, a coordinator from the centre.

The MUNI HELPS volunteer centre is currently a stable part of Masaryk University and as a project is an integral part of the university’s structure and activities. It is of course now responding to the unprecedented society-wide challenge presented by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The volunteer centre has demonstrated several times over the past few years the importance of its existence and has proven itself to be a worthy recipient of the European Citizen’s Prize in 2020, awarded by the European Parliament,” adds MU Rector Martin Bareš.

In recent days, MUNI HELPS volunteers have played critical roles at the Regional Assistance Centre for Aiding Ukraine as interpreters and organizers. Currently, more than 250 volunteers are involved in this work. A mental health crisis hotline for Ukrainian and Russian citizens at the MU Faculty of Arts is also being operated by volunteers.

“In the past two years, Masaryk University students have played a major role in providing assistance in the many critical situations that have unfortunately arisen. I am very proud that the university has formed such active, responsive, and empathetic young people. We have seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic, after last year’s natural disaster in South Moravia, and now, during the war in Ukraine,” says Markéta Vaňková, the mayor of Brno, about the city’s two years of cooperation with Masaryk University.

Masaryk University is responding to the situation in Ukraine in other ways than just through MUNI HELPS; it has opened a financial support programme for educational and humanitarian activities. In the second week of March, more than one million crowns were collected. The university also provides a place to live to Ukrainian students, academics, employees, and their family members at dormitories and MU’s other accommodation facilities. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, MU is preparing special stipends for up to 1,000 Ukrainian students to complete their studies at MU. A special stipend has been introduced for Ukrainian students currently at MU and for academics and researchers from Ukraine who will come to MU through a support programme. MU will also soon begin accepting new students from Ukraine.