Washington — The Kitega Community Centre in rural Uganda has emerged as a global model for volunteer networking, capturing a top United Nations award for online volunteering in each of the last two years.
When its coordinator, David Clemy, took over the center, which focuses on local health issues, he didn’t have the money to hire help. But using a United Nations online service, he soon enlisted 70 skilled volunteers who work from their locations around the world. Last year, 10,000 people completed 15,000 assignments for development organizations through the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) online service.
Internet capabilities are affecting volunteer efforts of other established service organizations in America and abroad. “The Peace Corps mission of ‘bringing the world back home’ hasn’t changed in 50 years, but for the first time, our volunteers in host countries around the world are relying on the Web to connect with Americans at home in ways that they’ve never been able to before,” said Peace Corps spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson.
In the Kitega community, Clemy saw the need to provide health care and clean water to disabled children and their families. He needed personnel and health expertise in developing programs to educate local people in HIV/AIDS and malaria to prevent disabilities. The community’s problems are intense, and the center is always looking for new approaches to solve them.
The center needed people with varied skills to come on board. But with limited resources, hiring qualified personnel was out of the question. Clemy found a solution in UNV’s online service in 2008 while searching the Internet for individuals who could donate time.
“It quickly changed my perception about volunteering, knowing that someone can help from afar and change the world,” said Clemy. He signed up to be a volunteer himself and also registered Kitega Community Centre.
“This is how it began for the little-known Kitega Centre,” said Clemy, “with a number of tasks being accomplished online by volunteers from all walks of life.”
For the last two years, the Kitega Community Centre has received the UNV Online Volunteering Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements of online volunteers for developing organizations.
In 2009, a team of six online volunteers was recognized for helping the center establish a health care program by researching funding sources and securing donations. The volunteers planned a Kitega community marathon to raise funds for the construction, staffing and equipment of a health care center.
In 2010, a team of eight online volunteers, including an Indian doctor, a Colombian biomedical engineer, a Cameroonian student, a Filipino medical technology professional and an American nurse, helped low-cost health care become a reality for the village of Kitega.
Clemy continues to search for online volunteers to help with grant writing, research and project coordination. UNV team members who have volunteered for Clemy name his commitment to ending poverty and social exclusion and his ongoing encouragement as inspirational forces. As far as Clemy is concerned, online volunteering has allowed him to fulfill his dream of helping others achieve theirs.
Working with UNV can have a contagious effect. Robert Gerstein, a volunteer in charge of research and development for the Kitega Centre, is an American teaching in South Korea. While volunteering for Clemy, Gerstein taught his Korean students about Uganda’s culture, geography and economy. He arranged for students in Kitega to send cards and videos to his class, which sent cards in return. “The correspondence heightened the pride students feel for themselves and their countries,” Gerstein said. “They developed a broader understanding of the world.”
Personal benefit gained from service is a significant aspect of successful volunteering collaborations, said Beth Gazley, a professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University.
Gazley explains that despite the growth of Web accessibility and social media, little research exists on the use of the Web as a vehicle for volunteering, but the UNV numbers prove that many American volunteers are drawn to donate their time this way. (Roughly 750 Americans volunteer online for UNV, according to the organization. Americans make up 8 percent of its corps.)
Vy Nguyen, a graduate student of economics, is typical of many Americans drawn to Internet volunteering. She began with UNV in 2007 and was part of the 2009 and 2010 award-winning Kitega teams. With a full class schedule and work commitments, Nguyen still finds 10 hours each week to dedicate to Kitega, editing newsletters and writing grant proposals for the center.
“When I hear about events in the world, and in Uganda especially, I no longer have the spectator’s mentality. Rather, I feel connected,” Nguyen said. “I’ve learned a lot, and I have taken away more than I’ve contributed.”
For more information on becoming a part of the Kitega Community Centre and supporting it in creating a better future, visit their website at www.kitega-cc.org. For more information on online volunteering, please visit the UNV website at www.onlinevolunteering.org.