“When compassion becomes your motivation, success will be yours.”
Our volunteer for this month is a young man who literally walked into our office and made it his! Samay Soni walked into our office one morning, with a novel in hand, sleepy-eyed and hesitant, wanting to volunteer for a very specific cause .. and we are glad to say that one cause became two and soon increased multifold.
As an Associate Software Engineer at Tech Mahindra, he works crazy hours, stays up into the wee hours of the morning and has enough pressure in his life. Yet, we see him bright and cheerful at our office at 9:30 am on most mornings. He candidly admitted that the one thing he was SURE of in his life was that he enjoyed working to help others and we should help him do that.
For someone who started his volunteering journey with something as basic as making follow-up calls to volunteers for an event, he sure increased his volunteering portfolio very seamlessly! Over a span of one year, he has served as a core coordinator for Daan Utsav, been our photographer on hand, an active part of Seva Cafe and blood donation camps, led community service initiatives like lake clean ups and post-Vardah road clear up. He has been part of everything CV does .. from teaching to marathon management to cycle rallies to setting up libraries in schools … he even managed to involve his boss to help out with the CV portal and they are actively helping us out with that.
All this while managing hectic work and other interests. And just as he quietly walked into our office, he is going to walk out soon.. to greener pastures far and beyond. We wish him luck and the very best in all his endeavours and know that he will always carry the Chennai Volunteers badge with him, spreading joy wherever he goes.
So here’s to more faith in volunteering and touching lives, while making his own a successful one. It is true, when compassion becomes your motivation to do more and give back more, the sky is the limit and the stars are within reach. Best of luck Samay, we know you will be back soon!
“ The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Our volunteer of the month is a tall man. Not just by virtue of his height but also by his values that we admire. Manukiran is a soft-spoken, young professional who started volunteering as a teenager. He used to help his mother teach young children from neighbouring slums. Though he was skeptical before starting to teach them, he enjoyed himself completely and there has been no looking back since then. In fact, of all the virtues he has imbibed from his family, the act of helping others is probably the most important one and it defines his persona as an adult today.
He seamlessly wove volunteering into his academic life through high school, undergraduate studies and during his Masters degree as well. It served as a constant reminder of how many things he had taken for granted in his life. He volunteered during his stay abroad as well, working with adult immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American nations. He found that even they were just as eager to learn English as the kids he taught in Chennai.
After returning to India to be with his family, he attended a Chennai Volunteers orientation session and it was a good fit for both partners. It’s been over two years since then and Manu has been volunteering actively, in his quiet and focused manner. He mostly engages through his core strength in volunteering which is teaching. He engages in at least three volunteering sessions a week and has become a favourite with the children. As a true volunteer, he also steps outside his comfort zone and tries something different like scribing and cleanup activities. For Team CV, he is definitely a lead volunteer at hand.
Though a young professional, Manu is mature beyond his years. He realizes that volunteering is a two-way street when it comes to learning. This was brought to life when he recently helped an M.Phil student write his thesis and edited it for him. During the time he spent with him, he learned about his research on a lost tribe from Myanmar as the thesis focused on a small group from that tribe that were now living in Chennai as refugees. He views volunteering as an opportunity to learn interesting new things like this through most of his volunteering sessions.
As he says and I quote: “The friendships I have created over the past two years with both the volunteers and the students I teach is priceless and I look forward to spending many more hours volunteering with CV.”
We look forward to the same, Manu and wish you the very best.
“ If you desire to make a difference in the world, you must be different from the world as well.”
This is a quote that many of us may have come across at some point in our volunteering journey and some of us may have understood it as well. But there are very few who embrace the thought closely enough to make it a mission in life. We are fortunate that one of our Chennai Volunteers is such a person. This perceptive, warm, sensitive, ever-smiling, gentle yet extremely driven person is our volunteer for this month, Reena Venkatesh.
Reena got to know about Chennai Volunteers from a close friend of hers and was an active volunteer from the start. She joined as a volunteer for Spoken English but soon realized that her heart lay in one particular cause – children with special needs.
Her journey began with We CAN, a resource centre that works for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Though not qualified to work with such children, what made her stand apart from others was her flexible nature and her ability to put the need of the school above her comfort. She was willing to do what the institution needed and was happy to be of help to them. WE CAN is a nurturing institution and they welcomed her cautiously, at first and then with open arms. Reena literally worked her way up as a volunteer – from clearing books in the library to making teaching aids, to admin related work. Very soon, she learnt how to shadow the teachers and help them in their sessions.
Somewhere around this time, she also realized that this was her passion and she actually took up and completed a course to become a qualified therapist for children in this spectrum, all the while keeping up with her volunteering commitments. It was incredible to see how she transformed from an easygoing person to a focused and determined professional once she stepped into her role as a skilled volunteer!
Once a specialist, she took to volunteering at another institution, Spastics Society Of Tamil Nadu, SPASTN -an institution that works with children with special needs. She began to spend an hour every week there as well. It was like she was on a mission to make a difference with such children. As she delved deeper into the special world of these children, she understood them better and was able to create content better suited to their needs.
Today, Reena volunteers relentlessly 4 days a week, between the two institutions and is our lead volunteer for children with different needs. Her hard work, focused approach to volunteering, endless energy and committed sincerity makes her a coveted volunteer. She has shown us how volunteering is no less than a profession and should be taken seriously. And she has been a volunteer at both NGOs for four years!
Ever willing to help with a beaming smile, Reena epitomizes Mahatma Gandhi’s quote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. “
We know that she has a long innings ahead and that she will touch many more young lives and brighten up their day with her infectious smile and energy, as a proud Chennai Volunteer.
The gift of agile golden years in terms of a healthy body and mind is bestowed upon many elders in our city. We see our senior citizens abundantly active in many community activities like music, dance, fitness and spiritual events, but the one sphere where they would be able to contribute most naturally and there is an existing need is Volunteerism. As people who have lived life fully and are now searching for more meaningful ways to engage, our senior citizens have the rich resources that volunteers need – experience, knowledge, patience and most importantly, time. Most of them are already helping their children or grandchildren or friends as part of their daily life so it seems seamless to extend their helping hand to others who need it, through service.
But then, one question that comes to their mind is, why should a settled and content senior citizen step out of his/ her comfort zone and volunteer?
1. Social, emotional and physical well-being: Volunteers who help others in need and sustain it over time are emotionally and physically better than others. There has been enough research done to prove that they are able to regenerate their own energy by focusing on someone else who needs them. It makes them feel younger and gives them a stronger sense of purpose. It also helps boosts their overall health and self-esteem tremendously as well. One example that comes to mind is Mr. Ravi Subramaniam (name changed) who celebrated his 60th birthday in the silicon valley with his children and then moved back to Chennai to spend time with his siblings and family. He spent a few months settling in and soon realized that he did not have much to keep him busy outside of family affairs. A chartered accountant by profession, he was very keen to spend part of his time volunteering for a needy cause, not far from his residence. He tried a few options and finally started volunteering with an NGO that works for specially-abled children and adults in the area of skill training and setting up micro businesses for them. It has been 3 years now and he is on the board of advisors of the non-profit. His passion met the need of the NGO and it’s been a good fit, ever since.
2. Bridging the generational gap – Senior volunteers who engage in a meaningful manner with youngsters are often amazed and energized by the enthusiasm and dreams of the youngsters. It helps them realize how the present generation thinks and acts differently from their generation and makes them feel updated. On the other hand, it is an accepted fact that most seniors make the best foster grandparents for youngsters in homes/ institutions for troubled or destitute children. As teachers or mentors, they just get the best response from youngsters. Case in point is Mrs. Radha (name changed) who is a retired college professor from a renowned college in Chennai. She started her volunteering journey by teaching Accounts to a couple of college boys in a study centre in South Chennai. Her hard work, patience and regular tutoring sessions paid rich dividends when the young men passed their exams with distinction and got placed in respectable jobs. For her, it was a transformational moment of having fulfilled her dream through these young men. As their teacher, she also subtly taught them invaluable lessons in life and they in turn gave her a fresh lease of life as well. She is now a volunteer for life!
3. Making new friends – As we all know, volunteering is the simple act of gifting our time, skills and talent to those who need it the most. However, to make a success of this engagement, it is important to do preparatory work backstage. This involves meeting with other volunteers, having regular volunteer orientations, feedback sessions, etc. In all this, they meet many new people from diverse backgrounds and professions. And the only thing that binds them is a shared purpose of wanting to give back to your community. Thereafter, as part of a group, they meet some more people with the same vision, to try and make a difference in someone else’s life. So, volunteering helps them make social connections – mostly very profound ones and they meet like-minded people, sometimes, 25 or 30 years younger to you! Who look up to them with respect as they are their ideal person.
4. Refreshing their knowledge: Retired professionals who start volunteering after a gap of a few years always find that they are refreshing their knowledge and updating their skills. The knowledge that they have is much easier to disseminate given the tools available today. Even in less privileged schools, they can teach, using digital aids that make learning easier and they find this very interesting. To be able to use their knowledge for someone’s welfare and be blessed by someone for helping them is way more satisfactory than getting paid for it.
These are a few reasons why volunteering works for the seniors and how it helps them. If I were to now look from the other side of the fence, all I can say is that the biggest takeaway for NGOs in terms of having senior volunteers is the sheer impact they have on the community they engage with. As a fellow volunteer once said, “ when a senior volunteer comes to teach, the students listen and learn better, when an elder serves at a home for the aged, the residents eat better and talk more, when an elder volunteer comes for a volunteer meeting, we all look up to him or her.” Because we respect the years of experience, compassion and knowledge they are willing to share with us all.
If you are (or know some) senior volunteer who wishes to start, you don’t have to look for a specific senior-friendly program to make your volunteer experience meaningful. There are opportunities everywhere – all you need to do is look around for the causes you care most about and identify where your help is needed. To name a few –
• Those who are compassionate about feeding the homeless can join “Dinners With Dignity” or feed residents in a needy home.
• Those who wish to teach can do so at schools, homes or study-centres as group volunteers or individual tutors.
• Those who wish to be professional volunteers can find a cause and offer to work part-time with them on a pro-bono basis.
• Mentoring children is an option for elders who wish to help by caring for youth with less privileges or special needs. They can help in diverse settings – schools, study centres or homes. There is a positive grandparent-grandchild relationship that can be easily fostered here.
• If you are passionate about helping other seniors, you could spend time with destitute elders at underprivileged shelters.
As part of a volunteering team, I should also acknowledge that senior volunteers, though replete with experience and compassion, do need a little extra care when it comes to volunteering. They are generally keen to volunteer only for meaningful and long-term programmes. They need more training, feedback sessions and emotional support but then that is the least that other volunteers can offer. They also like to volunteer at a centre close to where they live so it is easy to sustain this in the long run and they can travel independently. If this can be met, the seniors are able to continue their volunteering journey and derive satisfaction and emotional well-being from their volunteer experience.
Over the past few months, we at Chennai Volunteers, have been pleasantly surprised as some elders have reached out to our call for volunteers and we have some champions in the making. In fact, it is with this in mind that we are launching a new programme, especially for senior volunteers, “ Second Innings”.
It promises to open up a new vista in volunteering in Chennai. After all as someone said, your life is your message to the world, so let us help you make it inspiring!
Charity race events are becoming increasingly popular in our city. And why not? They are one of the most effective ways to combine the benefits of good health with the art of giving.
A marathon propagates the importance of fitness and demonstrates how it can be leveraged to raise funds or create awareness for a needy cause. It effectively breaks the barriers of social and economic class and brings together a sea of humanity that wants to give back to its community in a positive way.
Over the past few years, we have seen that as the popularity of such events ascends, so does the wish to be associated with something so good. And while we all wish we could run long distance, it may not be possible immediately. So, the next best way to associate ourselves with it and be an integral part of it, is to volunteer at it. Volunteers are usually the people who help make such events efficient, manageable, runner-friendly and of course bring tons of positive energy to it. In Chennai, most charity race events are managed in partnership with volunteers who are proud to be associated with the cause and they consider it a matter of honour.
Volunteering at a marathon is technically a one-time, high-energy volunteering activity that full of fun and excitement. (I say technically because this event has one of the highest percentage of returning volunteers). It has a festive and celebratory feel to it. Mostly held on a weekend, it is enjoyed equally by students and the corporate alike. It involves many facets of volunteering and the number required is usually large (depending on the scale of the event). A detailed orientation precedes the event which entails the various roles so each volunteer has a defined role to play.
So, if volunteering at a marathon for a cause is your cup of tea, read on…
Pre- Event Exposition : Even before “D Day” of the race, there is usually a pre-event exposition that takes place. The main purpose is to create a forum where the runners can come to pick up their race kits and clear all doubts about logistics and specific details of the event. Of course, it also provides ample scope for runners and volunteers to meet, greet and know more about running trends.
Finally, on the day of the marathon, there are many roles that a volunteer can opt for. Some of the most common volunteer roles in a marathon are:
Baggage Counter : Be among the first ones to greet and wish the runners luck as they hand over their belongings to you, before setting out on their run.
Information Counter Volunteer: No matter how comprehensive your communication or elaborate the exposition has been, there will always be some points that need to be cleared or assistance required. This is where the calmest and the most resourceful volunteers are placed.
Start Line Volunteer: This is undoubtedly the most hi-energy point of the race but also, mildly chaotic! It means maintaining discipline, helping runners identify their chorrals according to their estimated timing and then of course, cheering them as they start their run. I have witnessed some very innovative start lines where RJ’s, percussionists and zumba specialists have added much fanfare to the start of a marathon.
Finish Line Volunteer: I call this point the moment of truth when months of training, hours of running and tired soles touch victory. The volunteers placed at the finish line can literally smell and sense the euphoria of the runner as she or he steps over the finish line. They also have the honour of medaling and congratulating the finishers. I have known some volunteers to get so inspired by volunteering at this point that they have taken up long distance running after witnessing this magical moment.
Water Station Volunteer: Stationed along the race route, the water station volunteers are most helpful, alert and considerate. They reach out to the runners with water so the runner does not need to compromise on time. Some of them really dress up and keep the morale of the runners high too!
Route Marshal Volunteer: This is undoubtedly a group of happy volunteers who encourage and egg on the runners as they cover mile after mile. They keep the energy of the runners afloat by flanking the sides of the roads at strategic points in between consecutive water stations.
Medical Volunteer: Always an essential part of a run that we pray we don’t need to use, the medical volunteer needs to be mobile, familiar with basic first aid and life support. They are in touch with the medical team and keep an eye out for anyone who looks uneasy.
Help another racer run: Very essential in an inclusive event, running with a needy runner or guiding a disabled runner is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. You could volunteer to run with a visually challenged participant , specially-abled runner or young runners who need assistance throughout the race. You could be running with them or pushing their wheelchair. “ The first time I volunteered with a special needs boy at the “Run for Fun”’ “Never felt like I wasn’t a runner, even though I had registered as a volunteer!” said a volunteer at TWCM 14.
Refreshments / Brekker: If serving is your style, try volunteering at the food and refreshments counter and be part of the post-race celebration area. As a volunteer shared, “everyone is always in such a great mood when they get their food, after a run!”
Post run clean-up volunteer: Cleaning up after the run is one of the most important jobs to keep the marathon running smooth every year and ideally should be the onus of every volunteer. Even if the organizers have planned minimal waste, the amount that collects and how it spreads, is unbelievable. It’s simple – trash needs to be picked up and segregated. No volunteer can avoid this in our world today.
So, imagine you have helped by volunteering at your favourite charity run or marathon. The runners have retired happy and you, as a volunteer, are an exhausted but fulfilled lot too.
What do you get at the end of it? As much as the runner, I can assure you! You meet like-minded new friends, feel proud that you have been part of a group who helped a local charity or cause. And you would have supported and improved the experience of thousands of participants that day. In nutshell you get inspired and motivated about your life.
So, do you want to join an inspiring team, volunteer for a cause and have fun? You can develop your skills and experience while truly making a difference in your community.
That’s a promise that over 5000 Chennai Volunteers can make to you, after having served at several race events in our city, over the past 5 years.
There are few people I know who are true givers – when they serve or help someone in need with their right hand, even the left hand doesn’t get to know. One such person is our good samaritan of the month, Mrs. Tehnaz Bahadurji – a lady who dons many hats, each one with accomplished flair!
A volunteer for all seasons and deserving reasons, Chennai Volunteer is a channel she sought, to volunteer (with the less privileged) a few years ago and it’s been a wonderful association ever since. As a volunteer, she has a commanding and dignified presence, radiates positivity and you can see the young students look up to her with awe. She brings the perfect blend of compassion and firmness, sincerity and unflinching commitment to all her engagements.
Well-organised and efficient, she brings professionalism into her volunteering. She is a powerhouse of knowledge and helps out at various educational institutions. Tehnaz started volunteering at Spoken English sessions in one school and soon took on many more. Teaching Spoken English, developing content, writing proposals for partner NGOs, communications support for sponsorship during disaster relief, being an active blood donor, coaching young women for international exams in English (TOIEC), teaching visually challenged students, training young women etiquette and presence – her engagement continues to deepen and broaden with each passing month. She is always ready to help out…very often, at short notice! Today, Tehnaz is well known among volunteers and NGOs alike as she is active at our volunteer orientations. A core volunteer, she trains new volunteers on how the English sessions work. Her focused approach and candid nature makes her our inner conscience as well and she is a core volunteer for several long-term programmes.
Despite being active in several other organisations, shouldering important responsibilities and travelling across the globe, she is always there when you need her. As a true volunteer at heart, she has made volunteering an integral part of her life and I am sure she will inspire many more to do the same.