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Yangon, Myanmar – As COVID-19 pandemic continues and spreads as a global health emergency, challenging the nations in all facets, people around the world, including in Myanmar, are working together as one to stop the spread of virus. This particular situation calls for every citizen to stand up and take their role to participate in battling the pandemic as a common enemy more than ever. In Myanmar, volunteers play a very important role in fighting the pandemic, together with health workers side-by-side. 

The Government of Myanmar acknowledges the importance of volunteer support and appreciates their dedication to the COVID-19 response activities at the front line such as quarantine centers and facilities. In turn, it is important to provide all possible support to protect the volunteers from the virus and equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge towards helping people at the quarantine centers.

The United Nations supports the Government of Myanmar in its COVID-19 response including supporting the frontline workers and volunteers. As a part of the UN response, UNFPA is providing basic gender-based violence (GBV) and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) trainings, targeting 4,000 volunteers working at the quarantine centers in Yangon, Chin, Rakhine, Kayin, Bago and Mon, the locations where most hard-hit by COVID-19. Through collaboration between Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and UNFPA, the trainings are facilitated by technical experts with key messages related to basic gender-based violence awareness and DSW social services, basic mental health and psychosocial support techniques and corresponding referrals information.

Dissemination session related to gender-based
violence during UNFPA training for Volunteers    
Photo: UNFPA Myanmar

When the pandemic hit Myanmar, many groups of volunteers emerged in the communities to respond to the outbreak. Some of these groups have systematic organization structure and capacities but many do not. They have a strong passion to help people during this difficult time which, when combined with knowledge and skills related to basic concepts on gender/GBV and psychosocial wellbeing makes them a critical component of the response. This also helps them to apply “Do No Harm” principle. “The information sharing at the trainings is essential for the volunteers. They know how to maintain their positive mental health and where they can get psychosocial support when needed. They learn what is gender-based violence and how it can be referred when occurred. I see this training as a great opportunity for the volunteers,” Dr. Kyaw Linn Tun, Programme Manager of FXB Myanmar, a local NGO working actively with young people.

While helping others at quarantine centers amid COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers are very much likely to have stress and anxiety. Due to their non-stop work day and night, volunteers are vulnerable, not only to exposure to the virus but also to suffering mental health issues. It is in this context that the DSW/ UNFPA trainings help them learn techniques and basic concepts to understand and cope with the mental health issues they might encounter among themselves and others, and boost their capacities to help others.    

Aung Moe Swe, 30, a community volunteer from Bago said, “I am currently transporting people who arrive from abroad to respective quarantine centers. Like other colleagues, sometimes, I drive them to the hospitals. I bring food for the people staying at the quarantine centers. Sometimes, I volunteer to disinfect the areas. With such activities, we are risking ourselves daily to help other people. I am often worried about being infected by the virus during my duty. Those worries, anxieties and stresses are being accumulated day by day. If I cannot handle it properly, it will gradually harm my mental wellbeing. With confidence, this training is very useful for the volunteer people like us in order to continue our work safely and to help the people in need.”

UNFPA also provided psychosocial support online training for Government’s case managers in response to COVID-19 outbreak. UNFPA works to empower young people, women and girls and to support comprehensive healing and reintegration of GBV survivors. Mental health and psychosocial support is an integral part of UNFPA’s programming for GBV prevention and response. 

“Especially in this pandemic, people focus only on the external threat like the virus infection and almost forget to tackle the internal threat like mental wellbeing. Thanks to this training, we know how to win this fight not only for the country but also for our physical and mental health,” Aung Moe Swe added.