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Inspiring Best Practice 20 April Apr 2020 0701 20 April 2020

The 100,000 volunteers on the front line during the emergency - and the recovery - in Italy

There are over 100,000 people in Italy who have not locked down: staying at home is not for them - they go out to help others. They are Italy’s volunteers. Without them, the Covid-19 emergency would be even tougher.

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From the very start of this emergency, the Scout movement was on hand to deliver shopping and medicines to the elderly who cannot leave their homes. The more than 100,000 volunteers at ANPAS (Italian associations that provide assistance to the general public) continue to guarantee emergency transport across the country. But they are also playing their part in operations centres, in call centres and regional task forces, putting up tents for triage screenings at hospitals, collecting medical supplies and much more. Early on in the emergency, they were checking the temperatures of passengers at airports, now they are making home deliveries of medicines and essential goods as well as delivering swabs to hospitals.

The Italian Caritas groups and their volunteers have kept their support services up and running by turning to electronic systems and telephones: to all intents and purposes, they are providing psychological support to those who are distressed and disoriented by this pandemic, above all the sick and elderly. They provide personal protective equipment (PPE) - overalls, face masks and visors -to those working in facilities that take care of the most vulnerable and some Caritas groups are even making them. More than 11,000 Civil Protection volunteers are involved in coordinating the nation's response to the Covid-19 emergency. The volunteers from the Misericordie (one of the oldest volunteer organisations in Italy) travelled to Milan’s Malpensa airport to take delivery of the PPE supplies and electro-medical equipment sent by China and bound for Tuscany. Every day, food banks across the country still collect food and distribute it to 7,500 charity outlets providing assistance to one and a half million people in poverty. The doctors and nurses at Emergency are managing the intensive and sub-intensive care units at the new Covid-19 field hospital in the northern city of Bergamo built by the ‘Alpini’ (a historic mountain regiment best known today for its voluntary work in disaster relief). Their experience of tackling the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone meant that they were also able to contribute to the design of the hospital.

There are thousands of people in Italy who have not locked down: staying at home is not for them - they go out to help others. They abide by the government’s instructions to protect themselves and those they assist, but they are making an important contribution to easing a situation that, day by day, threatens to become unbearable for many people. “Together with doctors, nurses and pharmacists, more than 100,000 volunteers are on the front line every day battling the Covid-19 emergency,” wrote the Italian Ministry of Health. “Taking temperatures in airports, putting up tents, caring for the most vulnerable, making home deliveries of shopping and medication. Thank you to all those volunteers who are so bravely helping us all.” They run services that have been revamped in the space of a few days in the wake of this emergency - the first to have their fingers on the very pulse of the situation from the very start. Because it is simply not true that we are all equal in the face of coronavirus - sure, anyone can catch it, but being confined within four walls and the loss of income in a country that has been brought to a standstill affects different people in different ways.

“Taking temperatures in airports, putting up tents, caring for the most vulnerable, making home deliveries of shopping and medication. Thank you to all those volunteers who are so bravely helping us all.”

Italian Ministry of Health

The volunteer sector is not just about solidarity. It is about innovation, the ability to respond to needs and creativity. Its true added value, in the words of Stefano Zamagni (one of the fathers of civil economy) lies in its “revolutionary ability to plan”. This is why the sector should be involved, on an equal standing, in prioritizing measures, procuring resources and identifying the best ways to manage operations also in an emergency of these proportions. It would be a shame if they were simply assigned the role of ‘errand runners’.

It’s easy to see the value of the volunteer sector’s planning skills and the strategic role it will play in Italy’s recovery - when it will be necessary to hold together society and the economy, social justice and development. In a nutshell, at a time when it will be indispensable to foster social cohesion. We mentioned Emergency, but this is just one of many examples.

A cooperative of family doctors in Milan, the CMMC, immediately integrated a set of parameters to remotely monitor those people with symptoms potentially caused by coronavirus into the telemedicine platform that it normally used to manage chronic patients. “Twice a day, via an App patients send us parameters like their temperature, blood pressure, heart and breathing rates but also those symptoms we have come to know as being a sign of coronavirus, like a loss of smell and taste,” explains Alberto Aronica, vice president of the CMMC cooperative. “If the situation needs closer examination, then the systems sends an alert to both the patient and their family doctor. With a huge sacrifice, hospitals are winning their battle but the war will be won in the field: that is where we have to get organized and monitor individual patients to ensure that the disease does not flare up again.”

The volunteer sector is not just about solidarity. It is about innovation, the ability to respond to needs and creativity. Its true added value lies in its “revolutionary ability to plan”.

Stefano Zamagni, economist

In the Veneto region, a network of cooperatives has started to produce face masks. A number of companies have converted their manufacturing systems like Quid (the front runner, is a social enterprise combining fashion, sustainability and inclusion), Giotto (which runs a textile workshop in the prison in Padova) and the Centro Moda Polesano, the latest worker buy-out enterprise in the region. The face mask they produce is made of cotton with a coating to protect against droplets and microbes and can be used up to 100 times after it has been washed and disinfected. Current production capacity is around 25,000 masks a day with a forecast to double this figure as other cooperatives join the effort. A first stock of 40,000 pieces is already in production and will go straight for distribution.

Coming to the assistance of those with disabilities is the Fondazione Renato Piatti, a not-for-profit which has come up with ‘Toc Toc’ - a trial for a remote therapy service which aims to continue to support the 150 children with autism and their families under the care of the foundation. All therapy at the centre itself has obviously been suspended, but to ensure there was no interruption in the services they provide (neuro-psychomotricity, speech therapy, improvement of coordination) the practitioners have turned to digital tools. “These sessions have helped to re-build a routine that had suddenly been interrupted. There is no experience like attending the centre, but ‘Toc Toc’ allows us to maintain a certain degree of continuity in the progress made so far,” explains Luisa, mother to

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