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Students in action: how they are helping in the time of coronavirus

Students from MU and other universities are helping in Brno and elsewhere through the Masaryk University Volunteer Centre.

Some are sewing face masks, others are taking care of children or teaching them while others help wherever help is needed. Some volunteers also work directly for the Masaryk University Volunteer Centre, which has been connecting those in need with those who can provide help since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. To date, over 4,500 volunteers have signed up at MUNI helps iniciative and through the calls to medical students. While most of them are from MU, there are also hundreds of students from other Czech universities. You can read some of their stories below.

In-person and distance tutoring

While some of his fellow students from the MU Faculty of Education take turns taking care of the children of the University Hospital Brno employees at the campus, David Hnilička is taking care of just one child – on his own. He babysits and teaches a boy for a family in Brno four times a week. “I spend two to three hours with him each morning and we spend most of the time doing his homework because his school gives him a lot of assignments. I want to make sure he can go through it all with me and have a free afternoon to spend as he wants,” says David about his volunteer work.

David Hnilička.

He learned about the opportunity to sign up for the volunteer database and join those who want to help during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the MU Information System. “My parents have instilled in me that I should help others, so I try to get involved as much as I can. I did not hesitate and signed up right away.”

David gets along well with “his” family and his young charge and enjoys tutoring. “It is certainly an enriching experience to work with the child and help him understand the materials. It will come in handy when I become a teacher,” says David, who spends his free time on his study assignments, which mostly involve essay-writing.

“The upside of the current situation is that me and my family spend a lot of time together playing board games and watching films. I also succumbed to temptation and signed up to Netflix, so I am now watching one TV series after another,” adds the future teacher.

Another volunteer tutor is Leona Sabolová, who teaches her student online once a week. “I help a fourth-grader with English and her parents asked me to do it over Skype,” says Leona, who is a student of the MU Faculty of Arts. She moved back to her family in Ostrava when in-person classes were cancelled, so distance tutoring works well for her.

Leona Sabolová

She has already had some experience with this form of teaching through her job at a language school. “What makes it a bit more difficult is that I can’t see my student’s learning materials and it sometimes takes a while before she sends me completed assignments, but it’s nothing that can’t be managed,” says Leona, who besides teaching English and working with children, stated quite a few other hobbies and interests, which include playing the flute, in her volunteer registration form.

Hospitals do not just need medical students

Anna Šilarová, another student at the MU Faculty of Arts, registered as a volunteer in late March. “Although I am now working on my thesis and should be studying for my exams, it is quite difficult to focus on some of my study duties right now, so I decided to become a volunteer and do something meaningful,” says Anna, who studies psychology and started helping at St. Anne’s University Hospital in early April.

Anna Šilarová

While it is mostly medical students and healthcare professionals working at the hospital, sometimes all they need is a helping hand. Anna has already helped sort through the face masks that people brought to the hospital and distribute them to the departments, and the hospital will contact her again whenever they need help. As she explains, “Essentially, I was first contacted by the MU Volunteer Centre, who asked me whether I would be willing to take this on. Then the hospital contacted me with detailed information about my duties and the place of work”.

Volunteer coordinators

Besides Masaryk University, students at the Brno University of Technology, the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Mendel University and others also help through the Volunteer Centre. Karolína Musilová is a student at Mendel University who learned of the joint effort by the universities and the call to sign up on her university’s Facebook page and now works directly for the Volunteer Centre.

“I registered in the database and then I got an email saying that they were currently putting together the fourth team of coordinators and would I be interested in joining. All I had to do was agree on the details,” says Karolína, adding that as an empathic person she could not just stay at home as she wanted to do her bit in this difficult situation.

Karolína Musilová

The task of the coordinating team is to connect those who need help with the volunteers. She received three-hours of training for her job and her team had a lighter workload on their first day at work so that they could ask for clarifications whenever needed. “My team all get along well; we are six students and one of us supervises the team. Sometimes when there is less work and not so much pressure, we play some music and have a laugh.”

She appreciates the work schedule where she works for about twelve hours one day and then has the next day off. “It is also more hygienic as each shift sanitises the room, which is then aired overnight, and it means we don’t meet other teams in person to reduce the risk of infection.” Karolína studies food technology at the MENDELU Faculty of AgriSciences, so she uses her free time to catch up with her studies. Although she is only in her second year, she has already started working on her bachelor’s thesis.

The mind behind the volunteer map

The work of Karolína and the team at the MU Volunteer Centre is aided by the volunteer map created by Jiří Hladík and another colleague. This came about when one of his friends, a volunteer coordinator, remembered that Jiří can create maps. The coordinators needed a tool that would quickly show them if and how many volunteers they have in a certain area.

Jiří Hladík

“They presented a rough idea that we processed over a weekend and then fine-tuned it over the next couple of days to make it better and more automated. Besides the publicly available online map, we also created another version with more options specifically for the MU Volunteer Centre,” says Jiří, a student of Geographical Cartography and Geoinformatics.

Although Jiří had previously worked on similar study and work assignments, there were some things that he had to learn: “These projects are never the same and you have to figure out how to go about it. The volunteer map taught me a lot and I’m very happy that we were able to help with something from my field of studies and, most importantly, that it actually works.” Jiří keeps in touch with the coordinators and helps them find other ways of making their work more efficient.