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Accelerating the power of change through volunteerism

Rajdeep Pathak

Change comes when the society works together and the pandemic since last year has brought together many social workers and volunteers who relentlessly worked to help the poor, migrant labourers and other less advantageous communities. There are many stories of compassion and perseverance which will encourage more people to volunteer for change. Here are a few stories from the North East:

Nathan Thangkhiew, Ba San or Community Chief of Nongkseh locality in Shillong and his friends voluntarily provided services in their community by forming a Covid Committee. With the assistance of Dorbar Shnong they reached to different people and helped them in providing free accommodation, food, setting up Covid facilitation centre. He also used his personal vehicle to provide aid to patients and transport them to nearby hospitals. He and his friends conducted regular awareness campaigns in different localities on Covid-19 through posters, and so on.

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Sadam Hanjabam is making a change for the LGBTQ+ community in Manipur and striving towards a better and inclusive society. Hanjabam is the founder president of ‘Ya-All’ (meaning revolution), an Imphal-based NGO that had created India’s first transgender football team. He is also working to ensure food, health and hygiene of the LGBTQI+ community people living with HIV+, daily-wage earners, children and adolescents by mobilizing 100 volunteers.

“We have provided around 2,000 families and individuals with over 1,000 health kits, 6,500 sanitary pads and 1,500 condoms/contraceptives,” Hanjabam says.

Hanjabam has worked with people with special needs, transgenders, HIV+ patients and others and provided them free ration, medicines during the lockdown following the Covid-19 second wave.

Through his initiatives, he along with his 100 volunteers raised Rs 30 lakh during the pandemic that went towards helping the poor. His NGO works to empower youth and the queer community through life skills, and capacity-building. The NGO works on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and does advocacy and research.

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Vishu Rira Krochha, an independent journalist from Nagaland, worked on community volunteerism and said how the pandemic has brought back young boys and girls to the field of volunteering because many returned to their villages from cities and started working in their fields. She informed about the surplus food production of cabbage and organic potatoes and expressed her concern over how the pandemic had lowered the yield in production. “The pandemic has shown the young volunteers the importance of growing their own food,” she emphasised.

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Lishi Yania, President, CHUN Ajin SHG from Arunachal Pradesh, along with Adap Golo (SRLM) with the help of the SHGs in the Lower Subansiri district have been able to voluntarily provide aid in the form of clothes, medical aid, etc., to the labourers who could not return to their home as the second phase of lockdown was announced in their hill state. They also distributed ration that they got under BPL to old-age people and further carried out a vaccination awareness programme and got 70 people vaccinated till July 9. Lishi also informed that they regularly provided food to the police and doctors during the Covid-19 lockdown and are continuing with their efforts.

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Nur Ahmed Laskar, Pradhan, Sonapur Panchayat, Assam joined hands with the anganwadi and ASHA workers and reached out to around 14,000 people in the area to help them in various ways during the pandemic. He, along with his team, took the initiative to plant around 3,500 giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) herbal plants that has a medicinal effect on fever and works as an immunity booster.

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In Sikkim, volunteers like Suren Mohra, field facilitator at the State Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Sikkim, with his eight blood donors had started a blood donation campaign and today they have almost 13,000 blood donors in the state. Such strong is his passion towards serving the society that Soren had also organised 23 mini and three mega blood donation camps and provided relief to those in need for which he also mobilized young volunteers. “I am ready to provide 13,000 unit of blood any time”, says a smiling Soren. For self-sustainability, he promoted kitchen gardening and is also regularly training many people to take up this endeavour. He also put his personal vehicle in Covid-19 relief work by transporting patients on emergency and also supplying medicines.

Social volunteers

There are hundreds and thousands of young people all over the world who take time out of their already scheduled programmes and engage themselves in voluntary effort for many reasons, primarily to reach out to those who are in need of help.

What these people – engaged in volunteerism – does is to also engage the people they meet, either in the form of dialogue, sharing of experiences and so on and thereby bring out the best in them.

More than one billion people volunteer globally, the majority of whom serve in their own countries while many others volunteer to go to other parts of the world to render their services to people in need.

“Volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel that they matter to others,” says Pramod Sharma, founder chairperson of Yuvsatta, an organisation in Chandigarh working on several aspects such as education, health, youth development and training, capacity-building programmes and others.

“The ethos of volunteerism”, as defined by United Nations Volunteers (UNV), “is infused with values such as solidarity, reciprocity, mutual trust, belonging and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to quality of life”. The UN Volunteers website www.unv.org further mentions: “Volunteerism also forms the backbone of many national and international non-governmental organizations and other civil society organisations, as well as social and political movements”.

“Volunteering opens one up to multiple skill-sets of experience and exposure. It gives an advantage to working with people from different background for different reasons. While one is not paid learning from people, but while one volunteers, one finds a free opportunity to be tutored, groomed and mentored unto excellence. Through volunteering, skill development is enhanced. Volunteering means enhancing oneself and ones’ skill sets, for it adds in the development of one’s career and a volunteer understands and also develops in general, her/his living style,” says Dr.Paramjeet Kaur, senior advocate and founder director of Right to Shelter (Ashray Adhikar Abhiyaan), an organisation in New Delhi where numerous volunteers join to get trained for helping (read providing) shelter to the homeless.

She adds, “Volunteering comes with the right attitude – the attitude to learn, attitude to be emotionally intelligent and attitude to embrace change and new things and challenges that come along with it.”

Arun Sahdeo, Programme Officer, UNV India, in the blog: https://in.one.un.org/blogs/to-create-a-culture-of-volunteerism/ writes: “India is projected to be the youngest nation in the world by 2020, and the 250 million people preparing to join India’s workforce by 2030, will be either its biggest asset or its biggest vulnerability. It is a truth universally acknowledged that India’s ambitious growth objectives can be realized only by harnessing the immense potential of its youth”.

“The idea of engaging youth to meet India’s developmental challenges through youth volunteerism is not a new one. India has a rich history of volunteerism by way of religious commitments, philanthropy, mutual aid and value systems embedded within Indian society,” he adds.

The concept of volunteerism is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita 3.10-26 eloquently captures the tradition of selfless service as expounded in the Hindu philosophy.

The words of Swami Vivekananda also eloquently define volunteerism in a broader perspective. Swami Vivekananda had said: “…But appreciation or no appreciation, I am born to organise these young men; nay, hundreds more in every city are ready to join me; and I want to send them rolling like irresistible waves over India.”

Mahatma Gandhi who also strongly espoused the cause of volunteerism gave a call to the youth to go the villages for he believed that “If the village perished, India will perish too”. Mahatma Gandhi had also said, “The best way to find yourself is to you lose yourself in the service of others”.

The spirit of volunteerism has no boundary. Without volunteers a large amount of community facilities would simply not be available. Volunteers contribute to the social and cultural identity where they work by empowering people and helping them identify needs in the community by providing their services or their skills, life skills, work skills/job skills free of charge to the community and thereby strengthening network, making it a cohesive community. Volunteering allows the opportunity to engage with a diverse collection of people, whose paths would most likely never have met otherwise.

(The author is programme executive at Gandhi Smriti & Darshan Samiti, Rajghat)

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