A bunch of young people related their experiences of volunteering, at an event to mark Global Youth Service Day (April 15-17) in Delhi. They remembered the challenges, what they learnt and unlearnt in the few weeks or months as volunteers or interns. They spoke about seeing new realities and getting a different perspective on volunteering.
The event was part of celebrations for 10 years of the United Nations’ International Year of Volunteers, or IYV+10. The participants reflected on the value of volunteering in the world, especially in India.
There are 3.2 million National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers in colleges and schools, as per official data. The number has remained static and not expanded for the past few years due to budget limitations, said Sunil Kumar Basumatary, youth officer, NSS, Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. An NSS unit in one college can take only a hundred students. Institutions have the option of creating more cells which aren’t funded by the NSS.
Many colleges come to us saying they want to set up units. We allow them to start, provided they are self-financed, Basumatary said.
He also said that there’s a difference between an NSS and a non-NSS volunteer. The former become better human beings. Their productivity is higher, he said.
While many NSS members don’t finish the required 240 hours of community service, some exceed the limit.
There are some universities which give weightage to NSS volunteers in admissions, he pointed out.
Indeed, more and more people seem to recognise the importance of voluntary service. An autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Home Affairs proposes to use ‘volunteers for peace and harmony’. Set up in 1992 to assist in rehabilitating child victims of communal, caste, ethnic or terrorist violence, the National Foundation for Communal Harmony has floated a concept note to rope in volunteers, aged 15 or above, to act as whistleblowers to prevent communal tensions and also keep a watch on people living alone, Lalit Kumar, secretary, NFCH, said. The foundation is inviting suggestions and comments on the concept note by April 30.
Awareness is spreading. A three-month orientation course is in the works at a College of Social Work in Karnataka, said Vedabhyas Kundu from the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, who has been associated in drafting it.
An NSS volunteer from Delhi University’s Hindu College, asking the audience to never underestimate volunteers, signed off with a thought-provoking comment, Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers. The Titanic was built by professionals.
First-year LLB student, University of Delhi
Went to Nandkumarpur in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district and in Kolkata in 2009
We spent one week in Kolkata and three in Nandkumarpur village. The day we reached Kolkata, cyclone Aila struck. Although disaster management wasn’t part of our plan, we got involved in relief work. The most surprising thing was the attitude of the cyclone-hit people. They tried to make the best use of everything and helped each other. Language was the main problem there but within a week, we overcame it. As part of our internship, we observed how the host NGO was teaching child labourers and trying to get them into mainstream education near Kolkata. In Nandkumarpur, we met microfinance providers and self-help groups (SHGs). We suggested ways in which more women could be encouraged to form SHGs. I still cherish those memories. Once when I was in Class 9, I couldn’t even speak out my name during a quiz and our house captain spoke on my behalf. Today I am speaking here.
English graduate, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Lived with local communities in London and Jodhpur district for six months under a global exchange programme involving Indian as well as British volunteers, organised by various organisations
This was not so much about learning as it was about unlearning. I came out of that experience equipped with some ideas.
I unlearnt my pre-conceived notions. For example, I am very gadget-dependent but I lived in a village for three months which didn’t have electricity.
In the village, our objective was to create awareness on child rights. We conducted a survey relating to it and filed a report. We found out that most families had no clue about the Right to Education.
In the UK, we were in north London, which is ethnically diverse with people living in extreme economic conditions — both very rich and poor. Under our project, we worked to develop a community garden to provide the locals with cheap-priced vegetables.
Graduate in mass communication, Christ College, Bangalore
Part of the same programme as Dasgupta
Being a volunteer means picking up skills such as being adjusting, learning a language, fund-raising, and communicating. We didn’t know all this but we learnt. Volunteering makes you get out of your comfort zone. You also see factors like caste and gender at play.
In this exchange programme, one of the things that came into focus was development. Before I went to the UK, I thought it’s a wonderful country, which it is, but is that what India should aspire to be? One can’t say convenience is equal to development.
My project was on horticulture (organic farming) in both communities.
The area we worked in the UK was poverty-stricken (by their standards) with different ethnic communities. It’s a lot more challenging to make a difference there because their lifestyle is so different. There’s greater scope for the youth to do something here – the results come in much quicker.
Final-year history student and president, NSS cell, Miranda House, University of Delhi
Worked on media alternatives with an NGO in Nashik (Maharashtra) last year
My project involved using community radio to spread social messages. The NGO employees who worked there were drop-outs but they were hardworking and enthusiastic. We are the most privileged lot. And that’s a lesson there. If those people can work for society, why can’t we?
Talking of challenges during my stay there, language and food were a problem but people helped us everywhere. When I got down at the railway station at 12.30 am, I was looking for an auto rickshaw but the drivers couldn’t even understand Hindi. Then I took out a map of Nashik and we managed…
A journey of six weeks taught me a lot but that was just the beginning. I am very happy to have been a part of it. I believe in the phrase, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. You have to be the change.
As an NSS volunteer, I have been a reader to visually challenged students in our college hostel and teaching under-privileged children near the university campus, among other activities.