Being a vol­un­teer ever­y­whe­re and every time due to digi­ta­liz­a­ti­on. This is the way digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring defi­nes its­elf and thus offers a varie­ty of oppor­tu­nities to beco­me an acti­ve vol­un­teer. In order to intro­du­ce the resi­dents of Saxony-Anhalt to this new form of vol­un­tee­ring, the orga­niz­a­ti­on Freiwilligenagentur Halle-Saalkreis e.V., has deve­lo­ped the plat­form “ – Engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt”. 

Clara Savinsky says that she beca­me incre­a­singly inte­res­ted in the Jewish reli­gi­on through a year abroad in Israel. Since this expe­ri­ence she has been figh­t­ing anti-Semitism in Germany, amongst other things. As she moved to Halle for her stu­dies, she began to search for traces of Judaism in Halle. On the inter­net she came across the web­site – Engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt. There, the initia­ti­ve Jüdisches Halle cal­led for the deve­lo­p­ment of a digi­tal gui­ded tour focu­sing on Jewish life in the Händelstadt. At this time, Clara had never heard of digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring befo­re but she was in the thick of it fas­ter than she thought. 

What is digital volunteering about?    

Sulamith Fenkl-Ebert, long-time employee of the Freiwilligenagentur Halle and head of the pro­ject Digital enga­giert in Sachsen-Anhalt – Gemeinsam Gutes tun exp­lains what digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring actual­ly is. She notes that it “often seems as if digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring only rela­tes to social media acti­vi­ties.” With the plat­form which laun­ched in the sum­mer of 2021, she and her team want to show what diver­se forms digi­tal enga­ge­ment can take on. 

A woman checks out the digital engagement website.
Digitally vol­un­tee­ring — Freiwilligen-Agentur Halle-Saalekreis

The vol­un­teer agen­ci­es of Halle and Magdeburg have crea­ted this plat­form tog­e­ther to initia­te a con­tem­pora­ry form of vol­un­tee­ring in Sachsen-Anhalt. Both asso­cia­ti­ons dai­ly obser­ve social trends moving towards digi­ta­liz­a­ti­on: The cor­po­r­ate­ly design of this web­site is their respon­se to the incre­a­sing demand for oppor­tu­nities to per­form digi­tal volunteering. 

By taking a look at the web­site, it quick­ly beco­mes clear that Sulamith is right: There are very diver­se forms of digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring that work with various tools such as ZOOM, Trello, Slack or the Actionbound-App. In order to crea­te a wide ran­ge of offers, the team of Digital enga­giert in Sachsen-Anhalt addres­sed orga­niz­a­ti­ons spe­ci­fi­cal­ly and offe­red them to pre­sent them­sel­ves on the web­site. Meanwhile, the­re are alrea­dy over 40 offers and more are to come becau­se many orga­niz­a­ti­ons are star­ting to dis­co­ver the bene­fits of digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring and use the web­site to arou­se inte­rest in their pro­jects. To get in touch with an initia­ti­ve, vol­un­te­ers can sim­ply use the con­ta­ct form on the web­site. In most cases, the orga­niz­a­ti­ons offer addi­tio­nal con­ta­ct opti­ons for examp­le by tele­pho­ne, e‑mail or social media, so that the­re is an opti­on for everyone. 

“I sim­ply con­ta­c­ted the initia­ti­ve Jüdisches Halle via the con­ta­ct field,” recalls Clara. That was total­ly uncom­pli­ca­ted and after a first con­ver­sa­ti­on she quick­ly beca­me a mem­ber of the team. 

Who can get involved?  

 Sulamith exp­lains that this form of enga­ge­ment is ide­al for peop­le who are restric­ted in their mobi­li­ty becau­se they can car­ry out their digi­tal enga­ge­ment from home and thus avoid rou­tes. “One objec­ti­ve of the web­site is to enab­le as many peop­le as pos­si­ble to access digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring. Regardless of age, ori­gin and lan­guage skills, gen­der and com­pe­ten­ci­es. “We often jokin­gly refer to the enga­ge­ment plat­form as a play­ground,” says Sulamith smi­lin­g­ly. It should be a place whe­re you can jump around and try out your qua­li­ties. On the main page, inte­res­ted indi­vi­du­als will find six cur­rent offers. In the case that someo­ne does not find what he or she is loo­king for, they can keep browsing. 

Under the hea­ding Für Freiwillige, the inte­res­ted per­son can find more offers in the are­as of: acti­vism on the inter­net & citi­zen par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on, online advice, admi­nis­tra­ti­on & fund­rai­sing, trans­fer of skills and also acti­vi­ties rela­ted to public rela­ti­ons. Helene, a dual IT stu­dent, often com­mu­tes bet­ween the two cities Gera and Halle. She uses her know­ledge in image edi­t­ing to main­tain the Instagram pre­sence of a Halle-based asso­cia­ti­on. Then digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring fol­lows the mot­to: “When you want, whe­re you want.” And thus, also offers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­bi­ne vol­un­tee­ring and mobility. 

Where does the volunteering take place?   

Clara’s vol­un­tee­ring main­ly took place at home in front of her com­pu­ter. Due to the lock­down-events, lec­tures and semi­nars were online. As soon as she left her vir­tu­al lec­tu­re hall, she met up with other young vol­un­te­ers from Jüdisches Halle in an online work­shop. Max Privorozki, chair­man of the Jewish com­mu­ni­ty of Halle, ans­we­red their ques­ti­ons about Jewish pla­ces and cur­rent Jewish life in Halle via e‑mail con­ta­ct. They spo­ke with rap­per Ben Salomo via ZOOM about Jewish and German iden­ti­ty and anti-Semitism in Germany. Through the digi­tal archi­ve data­ba­se of the city, they were able to rese­arch the histo­ry of Judaism in Halle from their desks. 

The vol­un­te­ers then desi­gned the various inter­ac­ti­ve sta­ti­ons of the city tour in digi­tal group work using the Actionbound app. “Although I beca­me tired of my com­pu­ter due to the online uni­ver­si­ty, the com­mit­ment to the group was total­ly important to me”, says Clara. We made very good pro­gress, which was qui­te motivating.” 

What’s in it for you?  

When asked why digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring is par­ti­cu­lar­ly sui­ta­ble for stu­dents, the medi­cal stu­dent Marten ans­wers: “The big­gest advan­ta­ge is that stu­dents can direct­ly app­ly the con­tent lear­ned during their stu­dies.” Through the web­site, he found the Initiative Was hab’ ich? whe­re medi­cal stu­dents from the 8th semes­ter on help trans­la­ting medi­cal fin­dings into easy-to-under­stand language.

“Currently I’m stu­dy­ing medi­ci­ne at the uni­ver­si­ty of Halle. It is important to me to make medi­cal know­ledge about our bodies acces­si­ble to the gene­ral public. Of cour­se, this is par­ti­cu­lar­ly important for indi­vi­du­al medi­cal fin­dings, which some­ti­mes can’t be exp­lai­ned ade­qua­te­ly by a doc­tor in the stress­ful work­day in a cli­nic. That’s why I would like to help.” 

In addi­ti­on to the advan­ta­ge men­tio­ned abo­ve, digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring can help stu­dents to find a balan­ce to the ever­y­day uni­ver­si­ty life. Due to online stu­dies, many stu­dents lack a direct respon­se to their achie­ve­ments. This is dif­fe­rent with digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring: Even a uni­que acti­vi­ty, such as a tiny mar­ker on the wheel­map — a map for wheel­chair-acces­si­ble pla­ces in Halle — can help you feel your own impact becau­se you bring about a small but important chan­ge. Volunteering also has a posi­ti­ve effect on the cur­ri­cu­lum vitae, as many poten­ti­al employ­ers look not only at the aca­de­mic achie­ve­ments, but also at the nona­ca­de­mic acti­vi­ties of their app­li­cants. “Every form of vol­un­tee­ring can be cer­ti­fied” exp­lains Sulamith “inclu­ding digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring.” Therefore, the orga­niz­a­ti­ons on the web­site pro­vi­de pro­of to vol­un­te­ers during or after their activities. 

Sulamith empha­si­zes that digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring can­not, obvious­ly not replace the ana­log but can com­ple­ment it well”. Digital con­ta­ct can beco­me per­so­nal con­ta­ct at cer­tain points. A tan­dem-pro­ject can, for examp­le, start with a digi­tal get-to-know mee­ting and then pass into per­so­nal mee­tings. This was also the case with the initia­ti­ve Jüdisches Halle: after the lock­down, the group was final­ly able to meet out­side. In the begin­ning, they came tog­e­ther at one of the three pos­si­ble star­ting points of the Actionbound tour, at the syn­ago­gue in the Humboldtstraße. Afterwards they met with Max Privorozki at the end of the gui­ded tour, the Jerusalem Square. 

The city tour has been com­ple­ted sin­ce November 2021 and is avail­ab­le to inte­res­ted par­ties of all genera­ti­ons in the Actionbound app. The pro­ject has been com­ple­ted but Clara is on the search again: this time not for traces of Jewish life in Halle but for ano­t­her digi­tal chal­len­ge during the next lock­down. Until she herself has found a new digi­tal vol­un­tee­ring, she stron­gly recom­mends it. 

Author (Translation): Lina Donath

Pictures: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash, William Fortunato via Pexels 

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