How volunteers in South Africa are combating a global pandemic

Young volunteers in South Africa are helping the elderly in their communities register for COVID-19 vaccines

Amir Bagherioromi
A group of young volunteers wearing UNICEF shirts on a street in South Africa
UNICEF South Africa
13 July 2021

As a third wave of COVID-19 infections grips South Africa, Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout commenced on 17 May 2021 for citizens over the age of 60, with an approximate population of six million people. Around three million people in this group are recipients of the Older Persons Grant.

Since the vaccine registration process can only be done online, many South African elderly are struggling to register for the jab. The elderly in South Africa are often marginalized & vulnerable due to their age & geographic location in rural communities. They have limited technological skills and limited access to internet, which means that many of them need to be assisted with the vaccine registration process.

Additionally, some members of the public are still likely to be vaccine-hesitant due to the rampant spread of vaccine misinformation.

As a response to these issues, in partnership with Department of Health, Department of Social Development, Boxer Supermarkets (one of the pay-points where pensioners collect their grant), and other implementing partners, UNICEF and GenU volunteers in South Africa sprung into action across different parts of the country to assist the elderly in their communities with vaccine registrations.

The Older Persons Grant queues at Boxer Supermarkets provided a unique opportunity for these volunteers to reach this vulnerable population to conduct COVID-19 vaccine literacy and help the elderly with vaccine registration.

“I was feeling joyful to be out for the first time in Mahikeng doing community work," said Motloung, a young volunteer from South Africa. "I have always wondered how I can be part of community service. Volunteering is close to my heart. Now having been given the chance to help the elderly register for COVID-19 vaccination – I sure could not miss it! The outreach project was important to me because I know that the elderly are not well equipped with the knowledge to use smart devices to help them register for COVID-19 vaccination, and also it was very important to be there so that I could impart knowledge about the vaccination because a number of them are misinformed about the vaccination. I believe I am where I am because of the elderly. Now that I have knowledge about what's happening in the world, I should make an effort to help the elderly.” 

“Covid-19 hit South Africa hard, kicking us whilst we were down. And with our elders at risk and considered the most vulnerable to the virus, it was important for me to help where I could to help avoid losing more of our loved ones,” said another young volunteer, Reitumetse Melelwe.

The first phase of these activations took place on June 3 and 4–a time when pensioners in South Africa queue to collect their monthly pension. Over 100 UNICEF and GenU volunteers in 4 provinces and 5 cities of South Africa participated in these activations, engaging with over 3000 pensioners in their first phase of activations.

Despite the many challenges and difficulties that this global pandemic has triggered, it has also encouraged inspiring youth activism – we see a generation of young people who are determined to forge a better future for themselves and their communities – youth who volunteer and use technology to their advantage by lending a helping hand to those in need!