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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