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How volunteering can make you a better person

Last updated on: September 27, 2011 16:36 IST

How volunteering can make you a better person

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Malavika Mariswamy

Volunteer work provides many opportunities to learn and helps you in becoming a socially responsible person. Read on.

Over her last summer vacation, Riya Jacob, a 20-year-old BBM student from Mysore, gave herself an uplifting experience. She volunteered to work for a Bangalore-based NGO that promotes the rights of Dalit and tribal communities, women, children and minorities.

What Riya gave in terms of her leisure, she received manifold, she believes -- in terms of the social sensibility she developed through her volunteering work with the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM).

Developing an awareness of India's highly stratified society and the struggles of the downtrodden to realise their rights was just one part of the experience she values. The other was equally rewarding: the skills that she learnt while helping edit a magazine at SICHREM, her first exposure to the world of journalism.

"There was a senior person guiding me. So I learnt a lot, especially in terms of my editing skills. I also got to read about many social issues and it was really inspiring to see the kind of work that SICHREM does," she says. In all, a "fantastic" experience, she says, well worth the "chilling out" with friends, TV watching and shopping that she chose to forego.


Image: A member of the iVolunteer team participating in a child welfare event
Photographs: Careers360
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'You meet people who want to see change happening'

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The social instinct

Riya's discovery of volunteering needs to be placed in a broader context of an ever-growing number of young people wishing to wriggle out of their academic or professional domains in order to reach out to society at large.

"I guess I just like helping people. It's as simple as that," says Karthik Ponnappa, a student of public policy at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB), who began volunteering with Child Rights and You (CRY) and has since then helped in raising funds for another non-profit organisation and taught at a state-run juvenile home.

"In the process you meet a lot of like-minded individuals and those who want to see change happening," he adds. In fact, his decision to take up a postgraduate course in public policy and management has a lot do with his contact with the socially conscious organisations and individuals.

The decisions that Vikram Rai, a computer science graduate of BITS Pilani, has made, are similarly influenced by his volunteering work, but push the envelope further.

While he worked for IBM and other well-known companies, Rai managed to find time for volunteering with non-profit organisations like Dream A Dream, which develops life skills among underprivileged children, and he even helped connect other volunteers with NGOs.

He eventually quit his job and became one of the founders of Sattva Media and Consulting Pvt Ltd, a company that describes itself as a "knowledge centre that supports social development and social conscience".

"The entire experience of volunteering helped when it came to setting up our own organisation. We had a better idea of how things worked," says Vikram.


Image: Two young women from iVolunteer engage students in planting saplings
Photographs: Careers360
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A foretaste of work life

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The rewards

Many who have done volunteering work speak of a phone call or a hug from a needy child they had helped, the satisfaction of experiencing a positive change, and enduring friendships. For students, volunteering is also about getting a foretaste of work life.

"Punctuality is something I've learnt in the short period I've been here. Come in at nine, lunch break, running about getting things done, going home. It's my first experience of a workplace," says Radhika Jagdish, a law student, of her research and advocacy work with Janaagraha, a Bangalore-headquartered NGO that promotes citizen participation in urban governance.

Radhika says she chose Janaagraha because "it seemed more organised, professional and office-like" than the other NGOs that she had evaluated.

Students are attracted towards volunteering also because it adds a certain weight to their resumes, especially in the eyes of the overseas universities they apply to.


Image: For students, volunteering is also about getting a foretaste of work life
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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'There is an insatiable demand for volunteers'

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Assessing one's interests

Given the numerous societal problems facing India and the large number of NGOs, volunteering offers a mind-boggling range of options. It's advisable to evaluate one's own interests before taking the plunge. Contacting the organisations that one would like to work with has become easier because of agencies like iVolunteer that link volunteers with employers in need.

"There is almost an insatiable demand for volunteers and an opportunity for anyone who wants to do some good," says Shalabh Sahai who is the Co-Founder and Director of iVolunteer, which promotes only those activities that it believes will directly contribute to social development.

SPIC MACAY, a non-profit organisation, whose name stands for the 'Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth,' has a long tradition of volunteering. Those individuals interested in the cause of art, music and culture have a chance to join organisations like these to fulfill their passion as well as carry out volunteering.

"A lot of the senior volunteers who have been working with us for many years play a big role in mentoring the newer volunteers," says Anisha Pucadyil, Institution Coordinator and Volunteer Support, SPIC MACAY.


Image: Volunteering offers a mind-boggling range of options

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Organisations benefit to a great extent too

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Sincerity is the key

Then there are opportunities to work abroad too. For instance, Challenges Worldwide is an agency that looks for volunteers willing to work outside their home countries.

Asked about the level of interest shown by Indians in volunteering abroad, Alex Robertson, Applications Manager at Challenges Worldwide, says, "Although there are many who are keen to volunteer to get experience overseas, quite a few of them back out midway for various reasons."

What Robertson's observation underlines is the need for a degree of seriousness and sincerity to be shown by both volunteers and employers entering into a relationship. That seriousness becomes all the more important because volunteers become something of ambassadors or messengers of the organisations that they have worked with, adds Shalabh of iVolunteer.

It is not just volunteers who benefit from such experiences -- the organisations they are involved with do too. "Volunteers often bring in new ways of looking at things, new ideas and a certain dynamism," says Sapna Karim, Coordinator of Human Resources and Volunteer Management at Janaagraha.

For that to happen, however, one needs not only people who have a purposeful approach to volunteering, but also organisations that are receptive to new ideas. Volunteering can thus be the means to benefit the volunteer, the employer, and society at large.


Image: Volunteers become ambassadors or messengers of the organisations that they have worked with

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What, where and how to volunteer

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Volunteer activities you may like to try
  • Editing and writing work
  • Managing websites and blogs
  • Using social media to increase awareness about the work of an organisation
  • Assisting in production of short films about social issues
  • Teaching underprivileged children
  • Research work that goes into project proposals and presentations
  • Raising funds
  • Helping organise cultural events
  • Interpretation/translation work

Where to volunteer

  • SPIC MACAY
  • Janaagraha
  • SICHREM
  • CRY
  • Dream A Dream
  • The Akanksha Foundation
  • Ekta Parishad
  • Give India
  • The Make A Wish Foundation
  • The Spastics Society of India

Websites where you can register to be a volunteer

  • www.ivolunteer.in
  • www.ngopost.org
  • www.challengesworldwide.com

Photographs: Sondeep Shankar
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