SAFMH gathers information to provide an understanding of challenges that are identified within the mental health and wider disability sectors in South Africa. Gathering this information helps SAFMH to develop knowledge about important developments in the mental health, disability and non-governmental organisation (NGO) sectors in South Africa.
SAFMH has often received requests from students and professionals looking to volunteer within the mental health sector, in areas specific to their qualifications (this includes psychology, occupational therapy, and social work).
SAFMH, therefore, conducted an information-gathering exercise within the NGO sector in Gauteng during December 2019 and February 2020 to assess whether and/or how volunteers are being recruited and utilised within these organisations. Questions that were answered were a) whether NGOs were making use of volunteers, b) if so, what selection criteria they were using, and c) what these volunteers were being tasked with.
SAFMH believes that this information will help shed light on the nature of volunteering within Gauteng. SAFMH aims to also use the data obtained from this information-gathering exercise to broaden the exercise out to other organisations in Gauteng and other provinces to try and develop a detailed overview of volunteering trends across South Africa.
From the findings, SAFMH gathered that NGOs require persons who are qualified and often have a set number of placements available per year, limiting the number of volunteers they can take. Activities that volunteers can partake in also limits the number of placements available. It seems to work best when NGOs have partnerships in place with colleges and universities so they know they occasionally have students that can volunteer and the students would have supervision available from their institutions. A few NGOs might welcome those who are passionate about their work and are not necessarily qualified.
It is interesting that none of the organisations mentioned mental health care users (MHCUs) as volunteers in NGOs. SAFMH often receive requests from MHCUs who wish to give their time and expertise as volunteers but this proves to be challenging as NGOs generally prefer persons with skills and qualifications instead of life experience.
It is important that volunteers sell themselves to an organisation to present themselves as professional persons. SAFMH has noted that some prospective volunteers send an email with one sentence and no résumé attached, which is not ideal. Prospective volunteers should thus be informed that they should clearly motivate why they want to volunteer when first communicating with NGOs and always attach a résumé. Prospective volunteers need to view a potential volunteering opportunity equally to an employment opportunity.
SAMFH will, in the year 2020 to 2021 extend the information gathering exercise to other provinces to determine whether different results will be obtained and also approach more organisations in Gauteng.
SAFMH wishes to advise NGOs to build relationships with universities and colleges to have students come to their facilities to volunteer because in that way the students do get supervision from their schools and they also get to gain experience.
Written by: Kamogelo Sefanyetso, Project Leader: Mental Health Support