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This is not an article on 'young generation-bashing'. In fact, it's quite the contrary.
While we see the glam and excitement of youth, we rarely see their grit and determination.
It is that grit and determination that is inspiring many young people to volunteer towards some social cause.
The primary reason for volunteering is the passion to do some social good. The fringe benefit -- volunteering definitely adds value to your CV.
For Mahalakshmi Ganpathy, a third year Arts student from Symbiosis Institute (Pune), the constant niggling thought is, "Country ke liye kuch karana hain. I keep thinking that I have to do something. It all started when I was in my 11th standard. I was asked if I could write the exam for a physically challenged boy at Symbiosis. I knew it was tough, but I agreed. I wrote his exam, he passed, and got 65 percent. That made me realise that me doing a small thing could have a great impact. The next year I used my entire vacation to pursue social activities."
Since then Mahalakshmi has traveled on her bike to remote villages around Pune, partcipated in workshops with girls from villages, championed environmental causes in the city, travelled to villages in distant Manipur and studied the lives of rural folk -- rather a lengthy list!
Ask her how she manages her academics and she quips, "I don't score very badly. I do spend very little time in college, but then I've also become more passionate about studying harder."
Currently, she wants to start a youth development centre in her college. "But I haven't got many volunteers. I'll keep trying, though," she adds.
While for Mahalakshmi, the social cause takes precedence over any other activity, techie Nikhil Bandiwadekar volunteers to fulfill his duty towards the society.
A 29-year-old technical lead in a software company, Nikhil is also the director of a children's home called Ishwarpuram. "I am sensitive towards beggars, street children, and the handicapped. I had decided for myself that I would participate actively for the betterment of this class when I start earning. At the start of my professional life, I donated and tried to work for famed organisations like CRY (Child Relief & You), but could not identify with their principles. Hence I looked for an organisation that works at the grass root level and is in genuine need of volunteers. In Ishwarpuram, I found that," he explains.
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Abhishek Gier, a young professional from Delhi [Images], feels the social disconnect between the very rich and the very poor needs to be probed more deeply. "Catalyst, our NGO, aims at bridging this divide in Delhi. We get upwardly mobile youth and professionals to interact with the underprivileged. We organise programmes and activities with the two groups."
Nilesh Bhanage is working with a Japanese multinational in Mumbai. He was inspired to start off animal rights group PAWS Asia at the sight of a hurt and dying pigeon. "I was just 18 years old. While flying a kite on the terrace, my brother spotted an injured pigeon. It was being attacked by crows, so we took it home. We tried to save it, but it died. The apathy of the pigeon led me start an NGO."
Nikhil feels that his social work helps him network better. "My volunteering definitely gives me better visibility in my friend circle and among networking sites. At work, my colleagues understand and respect the cause, trying to help in any way they can," he explains.
Mahalakshmi agrees that volunteering enhances your CV. However, that is not the primary reason behind lending a helping hand. "I volunteer because I am interested in doing social work," she asserts.
She says her perspective of life has changed since she started these social activities. "I want to do an MBA. Qualify professionally, basically. I will also give the UPSC (government service) examination," she sums up.
The day seems shorter when you have a mission at hand, even more so if you are young. However, the motivated do find time for their favorite activity. "I am doing this full-time now," says Abhishek. "I've worked in multinationals and banks, but realise that this cause is the need of the city currently. For financial sustainability we have a bakery that employs these underprivileged people. It caters to very well-known hotels and restaurants."
Nikhil volunteers on weekends. "At times it is difficult to maintain a balance between work, this activity and my personal life. But when I see joy on the innocent faces of the orphans at Ishwarpuram, it makes me forget everything," he smiles.
They all agree that the journey is tough. "It's difficult to get people to visit the underprivileged. They usually don't come, but when they do they are there to stay. Once they attend a session, their perspective changes," says Abhishek, "The outlook of the upwardly mobile towards the underprivileged and the poor changes."
Yet, there is a sense of joy at the tiniest of achievements. Nikhil elaborates, "I have received more than Rs 1.5 lakhs in donations from my friends in India and the United States for Ishwarpuram. Currently we have 45 children. We want to extend this number to 100. We also plan to support female children, mentally and physically handicapped children and elderly people. In short, we want to have Ishwarpuram as a home for any underprivileged person."
Nilesh has worked on many rescue missions for animals and run awareness programmes. He has been volunteering for the last 10 years and has made big and small changes in the animal rights arena.
Many agree it is a call from within. Most of us hear our soul reach out to some social cause. However, experts caution that it is not always a wise idea to jump into the first NGO that you see.
Nilesh says, "Start with (activities) yourself...then volunteer with an NGO, learn lessons from them, and accordingly develop yourself."
The biggest step towards volunteering is listening to that tiny voice that comes from within.
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