[We Care, We Share] Inspiring story: Volunteering in the COVID-19 Era: Life as a volunteer

We Care, We Share

UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative- Resilience tools for COVID-19

Volunteering in the COVID-19 Era: Life as a volunteer

 “Since I went straight into graduate school after completing my bachelor’s degree, my experience with women and children’s rights was mainly based on theories and international policies before I started interning at Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW). While with RENEW, I learned to relate and apply my theoretical knowledge within the local context. Although the pandemic has negatively affected many people’s lives, I would not deny that I have gained a lot in terms of experience due to it. There couldn’t have been a better time than this to understand the ground realities of the most vulnerable and those living on the fringe of society,” said Sonam Choden.

Sonam is currently a Master’s student at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. She is in her final semester of studying International Development, specializing in women and children’s rights in developing countries. She returned home in March to do a field study for her dissertation for a month and is interning at RENEW. However, due to COVID-19, she has been in Bhutan for the last seven months, attending her university classes online while continuing to intern at RENEW.

During the initial months at RENEW, Sonam supported the Outreach Division in writing proposals and collecting data for research. Data collection required interviewing people and with COVID-19 restrictions in place and collecting data proved to be quite challenging during this time. She was then introduced to Gawailing Happy Home, an emergency shelter managed by RENEW.

“I started spending time with the children at the shelter while conducting various activities and keeping them meaningfully engaged. My first and the most memorable activity with the children was watching “Spirited Away”, a movie by Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki’s movies have had an enormous influence in my life growing up, and seeing the children respond to the film the same way I did when I was little, was exhilarating,” shared Sonam. She also mentioned, “Being with the children encouraged me to take initiatives like networking with Bhutanese people online and seeking donations such as clothes, books and movies.”

Currently at RENEW, Sonam is working with Green-E Solutions to develop a phone app for the Counsellors of Bhutan Board of Certified Counselors (BBCC) as a means for assessing clients. She is also the coordinator for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) 2020 as part of the16 days of Activism at RENEW.

Through RENEW, Sonam also attended a seminar by Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) on the hardships people with disabilities were facing due to COVID-19 and the protocols in place. “As part of this seminar, I spent my Sundays assisting a mother of one of ABS’s clients selling vegetables at the farmer’s market until the lockdown,” shared Sonam.

Sonam also volunteered with new friends from Your Caring Community Foundation (YCCF) and participated in the trash tag challenge organized by the Australian Alumni Association. She volunteered once at Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, too. “During these times of volunteering, I had the opportunity to meet many unique and socially conscious people; especially the younger generation who showed me how important it is to not only work with the community but also across generations to solve social issues,” said Sonam.

“COVID-19 has put up many challenges, not just for me but the whole world. Yet, this pandemic has also provided a great opportunity for me to experience working in Bhutan, reconnecting with my family and friends and gave me the opportunity to continue working for something I am very passionate about,” concluded Sonam.

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