NGOs in India are trying to bring about a change at the grass root level. Many among them (like Aashayein) aim at connecting the growing professional population of the country with the segments of the society that are struggling to break through the barriers of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. The educated middle class has opened up to the idea of giving a part of their earnings to these NGOs for various social causes. As noble as the gesture is, NGOs today need more than just funds to make a lasting impact.
Monetary and material donations are important. However, their effectiveness is only determined by the ability of the NGO to leverage these contributions to serve better the cause it is working for. This ability is indirectly dependent on the available volunteer hours and volunteer skillset that the NGO has at its disposal. Considering the scale and sheer quantity of problems in our country, the higher the quality and quantity of volunteers available, more effectively can the NGO function in its respective area.
Moreover, in case of monetary and material contributions, many willing donors are tentative about supporting new NGOs/causes for their lack of credibility. Giving by volunteering allows you to see for yourselves the impact your contribution is making. One may later also choose to support the NGOs they volunteer for through other means.
As the secretary of the social initiative club at MDI, I had initiated a tie-up between the NGO Deepalaya (the NCR chapter) and my institute. In my interactions with the director of the NGO, Ms. Sudha Parthasarthy, she expressed a strong need for more volunteers at their centres with the purpose of providing children with more than just traditional school learning. She wanted the children to build better vocational skills, learn creative arts and become more aware of the opportunities available to them. It is not that the available staff at Deepalaya was incapable of providing them with value added learning, however they were too stretched with meeting the basic needs of the children to be able to take learning to the next level.
Considering our hectic schedules at a b-school, the only solution I could offer her was monthly visits by students from my institute. In each of these visits, we tried to focus on a particular aspect of learning which went beyond academics. However, what helped the most was perhaps the fact that we built a bond with some of these children and were able to mentor them through their doubts and anxieties. I do not know if the impact of what we began is going to be long lasting, but I can say with certainty the children were better off with our participation that without it. We were able to supplement their learning in our own small way.
Being in the position of a decision maker for my club, I had the easier option of raising funds for Deepalaya using the resources at my disposal at MDI. However, considering the need of the NGO, I think it was only right that we contributed to the cause with our quality time, whenever possible.
When I talk about volunteering, it is not about working for an NGO full time, but being consistent in the time you give - a few hours daily or a few days every month. In the hectic lives that we lead, volunteering is a productive way to take a break from the monotony of work life.
The beauty of being a volunteer is you gain much more than you give. The personal satisfaction that you get by putting a smile on those faces is of a rare kind. Besides, you learn to better interpret problems, create innovative solutions, work better in teams and even become a better leader. The hands on nature of the learning ensures it is deep rooted and permanent. Thus, volunteering is as much a process of helping yourselves as helping others. In this light, I am forced to rethink if the title of the post is apt.