Lockdown consequences for volunteering in Berlin

The streets are slippery and still covered in snow, the air is cold, sidewalks are sometimes poorly cleared. Ironically, it is a good thing in the winter of 2021 that members of the youth group "Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz" (BUND) can no longer meet in a pub as they used to.

You can stay in the warmth at home and still chat. At the casual meetings, interested people can find out about the work of the BUND youth, in order to perhaps join in later.

In the pandemic, everything just goes digital. "In the summer of 2020, we met at Tempelhofer Feld, where you could keep your distance," says Björn Obmann, youth education officer at BUND Berlin. "But now everyone only sees each other on Zoom."

On Tuesday evening, another "bar night" took place. "Seven people interested in the work attended, which is a good quota," says Obmann. "However, digital meetings do not replace personal contacts.". It is the problem that all volunteer youth organizations in the city have. They have to cope with a completely new situation. And now it turns out, Corona is both an opportunity and a curse.

Youth meetings and summer camps have to be cancelled
For David Spitzl, the curse category primarily includes the lack of personal contacts. "The classic offers of youth associations are not digital," says the press officer of the Landesjugendring Berlin. "The personal exchange, the meetings, the international youth encounters, the vacation camps, all that is basically not possible. Okay, there have even been summer camps that have taken place online, but of course that's no substitute for a live experience."

These are the soft factors that affect life, the feel-good thought. It's bad enough that they can't be operated, but it's also about tangible numbers. There are 34 associations and institutions runing in the Landesjugendring, and the association also keeps track of all the youth leaders in the city, whether they belong to the Landesjugendring or not.

2000, that is the number Spitzl looks at gloomily. A total of 2000 youth leaders worked in the city last year, compared to 2400 in 2018. "Training for youth leaders has pretty much collapsed in 2020," Spitzl says. Training can't be done merely online. "Fifty percent of the training should take place with face-to-face events," he says. "That's where sensitive topics are addressed. But that was almost impossible in 2020."

After the lockdown, the youth leader shortage is especially apparent
Currently no youth leaders are needed for trips. "But after lockdown, when you can travel again, then there may be too few youth leaders to go," Spitzl says.

On the other hand, Corona is, perhaps, an opportunity. The groups develop tremendous creativity. The DRK youth encourages its members to write letters to the elderly, scouts cook for the homeless and offered sewing instructions for masks, there are online guitar courses, playing games together, the imagination is unlimited. Next weekend, the "Junge Humanist innen Berlin" are organizing a "stop-motion" event. 15 members, all 13, 14 years old, can digitally assemble photos into films under guidance.

The organizations are also not yet going broke financially. "The Senate Department for Education and Youth acted quickly," Spitzl says. "The basic funding has remained the same in 2020; we receive enough support."

Youth education centers have high revenue losses
It's a different story for youth education centers. They live off school classes that stay there and seminars that take place there. "They have 70 percent revenue losses in some cases," Spitzl says. The Senate has also put together a rescue package for this division in 2020. But what it will look like in 2021 is still unclear.

Obmann senses the problems with youth leader training at BUND Youth. There is a lack of large rooms where participants can keep enough distance. Or there is a lack of money to rent large rooms. Typically, BUND Youth holds two seminars and 40 to 50 school workshops per month, but the numbers have almost completely plummeted during the pandemic.

The five working groups meet regularly, but they have moved their communication to the web. To lighten things up, there was an improvisation workshop. Everyone could participate at home. It wasn't directly related to environmental protection, but it lifted the spirits.

For some, however, such interludes simply come too late. "We also notice a certain weariness with digital use," says Obmann. "Those who are glued to their screens all day because of school, job or training simply don't feel like doing any more volunteer work in the evening." The membership of one AG has temporarily halved for this reason.

Digital communication also has advantages
But Obmann has also found that there are digital benefits to be enjoyed. He's a full-time official, and he's discussed with his colleagues throughout Germany that, after all, you don't have to travel across the country twice a year to meet. Once is enough. Zoom takes care of the rest.

And for the time being, he doesn't expect the situation to improve. The bar evenings have always taken place in pubs in Wedding and Neukölln. "For this year," says Obmann, "we have not yet requested a pub."


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