How volunteers help refugees
In general, anyone with an interest in helping refugees is welcomed to apply to be a volunteer, and in general, you do not need specialised skills to volunteer.
However, UNHCR also encourages volunteers with specialized skills such as doctors, nurses and public health practitioners to apply. Volunteer lawyers, artists, writers, teachers, academicians and researchers, and events managers are also needed.
Volunteer teachers can help with English and Bahasa Malaysia and in teaching computer, business, arts and crafts and sewing skills to refugees. Fundraising and assisting with special events organised by UNHCR and/or NGOs is another way volunteers can lend a hand.
In addition to their involvement in UNHCR projects, volunteers often develop their own initiatives including sports days and drives for clothing, food, health-related items and financial assistance.
One of the major areas of concern for refugee parents is the non-access to formal education for their children while they are here in Malaysia. The refugee communities set up informal classes to address this, where children learn basic lessons in Math, Science, Geography, languages and other areas. These classes are held at community centers established by the refugees themselves - this often takes the form of the living room of someone’s flat or verandah of someone’s house. The lessons are usually taught by a member of the refugee community. However, these lessons are limited by many factors, particularly the lack of resources including skilled teachers who are available regularly, funds for a teacher’s salary and teaching materials.
Volunteers help supplement the gaps by giving their knowledge and skills to teach refugee children and adults. In fact, in some instances, these informal schools are driven entirely by the efforts of volunteers. There are also schools run by Non-Governmental Organisations and by UNHCR.
Fundraising and resource-mobilisation
Volunteers often help refugees by conducting donation drives in schools or among friends to collect basic daily items such as clothes, tinned and dry packaged food, books and also toys for children. Some ideas include “Flip-flops Drive”, a donation drive to collect slippers and sandals for refugees who have been released from Immigration Detention Centers and are in need of clothing items. Another idea is to “Adopt a School” where volunteers “adopt” a particular refugee community school and regularly visit and contribute their time to help develop the school and the needs of the children. There are also volunteers who assist with fundraising for emergency cases, such as emergency medical cases requiring large sums of money.
Professional, or Special Skills and administrative/clerical assistance
Frequently, UNHCR receives the generous contribution of time and skills by professionals who provide pro bono services directly to the refugee community or through UNHCR’s advocacy efforts. For instance, this includes lawyers who help represent the refugees in court for immigration-related offences, or doctors who contribute their time to give free medical services and health awareness talks to refugee communities, or designers who design TV Advertisements or publications for awareness-raising. Volunteers also help with clerical work at UNHCR such as data entry or filing, depending on the need. These services are greatly appreciated by UNHCR and we always welcome others who have specialized skills including filmmakers, artists, counsellors, translators, events managers, etc.
Special public events
Some volunteers who are unable to contribute time every week prefer to help periodically when there are large events, such as during World Refugee Day, during seminars and conferences, and other public events. Volunteers are informed of these events through email notifications and are invited to help out. This usually works best for those with full time jobs who can only spare weekends to help.
Social Activities for Children and Adults
Some volunteers who are creatively-inclined or interested in physical activities contribute their time in activities involving arts and crafts, sports, exercise, dance, yoga, aerobics, and other social and/or fun activities for the refugee community. This is usually conducted at the same venue as the informal community classes, but as an extra curricular activity for the children to add variety and different stimulations for them. Such activities are driven by the volunteers themselves, as they will coordinate what activity to be held, and the requirements of these activities based on conversations with the community leaders and the volunteer teachers to understand and ascertain the needs of the community.