“Every thought plants a seed to one of your actions. Every good action will yield a consequence. The person who takes good steps every day, cannot help but reap a harvest of awesome results.” This quote by Robin Sharma stayed with me for a long time after I read it. It is true that a thought can be powered by positive action, to yield far reaching results. In fact, a recent volunteer driven initiative in Chennai, the Chennai Volunteers Covid Resource Guide epitomises how citizens can come together, virtually and create a movement to support fellow citizens in their time of need.
The Covid Resource Guide had its genesis in genuine concern for people impacted by COVID-19, and an awareness of how important it was for them to have accurate resource information on hand. As the second wave of Covid 19 crested, it was a handy reference for those affected by Covid and alleviated their fear of how to access help.
Compassion, consistency and collaboration were the three pillars that supported this team of 200+ volunteers who worked at a frenetic pace for over 6 weeks, sans sleep or sanity. Each one of them played a role in scripting this story and left a lasting legacy – a registry of authentic covid resources if Chennai or Tamil Nadu ever needs them again. The sheer diversity of the team was delightful! The youngest volunteer was a student in Grade IX while the eldest was a retired senior. They also included college students, NSS volunteers, professors, professionals, corporates, homepreneurs, dentists, practising doctors and dentists, lawyer and homemakers. What kept the team together was the need to give back and the comfort that they could #volunteerfromhome .
The Resource Guide was a lesson in how raw volunteer passion could be channelled to evident purpose. It demonstrated that when collective compassion focused on a common cause that was broken down into supervised action, the resultant was greater than what one envisioned. It also brought to life the true spirit of volunteering where every volunteer was completely engaged and give it her or his best, regardless of their standing in the outside world. Each volunteer’s moment of truth purely lay in how much he or she contributed. And the reward was a warm sense of accomplishment as a team and new insights every day. Many discovered a new dimension to themselves and realised how we, as humans, are engineered to help others.
Volunteers play an important role in building the foundation of compassionate and inclusive communities, through meaningful intervention. They have the potential to become a force of good once they learn, through experience, that they can be a catalyst of positive change. As they move on, they become our ears and eyes on the field, wherein their feedback and inputs propel us to improvise constantly. However, it’s always the first taste that whets or weans their appetite for volunteering.
The first step in volunteering should mandatorily be an introductory orientation. It is imperative as it welcomes, introduces and engages the new volunteers to get them started on their new journey. It also demystifies volunteering, gives them an aerial view of what lies ahead and of course, helps us get to know them. At Chennai Volunteers, we prefer to have smaller meets every month but, at times, that may not be possible, especially when the new volunteers are students. It’s always large groups but we ensure that we get a moment with each one, to understand their unique ability.
At the beginning of every orientation, we always acknowledge each volunteer as an individual with a unique skillset. Every single person has a strength that they may or may not be aware of and if we can help them tap into that, they could be a volunteer for life. At CV, an orientation also includes:
A quick introduction by volunteers
An introduction to mission and core values of our organisation
An overview of our role: what we do and how we go about our work
A brief on the persisting volunteering needs at that point and programmes to address them
Sensitisation to the NGO sector and the communities we engage with
Volunteer protocol, processes and expectation setting
Importance of feedback, regular response and improvisations to finally measure impact
Mapping of volunteers to various programmes, based on their suitability and availability
Separate on-boarding sessions with the core volunteers of each programme
Short talk by a lead volunteer who shares his or her volunteering journey
Short experience sharing by an inspiring NGO partner who shares how volunteers have helped their students or beneficiaries, as the case may be.
The orientation takes within an hour, is designed to be very interactive and we conclude with some conversations over coffee, with our new friends. The effort is to make them feel welcome, comfortable and above all, committed to a common goal.
The past month at CV has been incredible… we’ve been visiting our partner institutions (colleges) to meet our new friends, who are back in college after two years! It been nothing short of exhilarating to orient new student volunteers, initiate them into programs, elucidate volunteer protocol, share insights and institute active response into the design. Some of them have been on the field for over a month now and their experience sharing makes the friends eager to start. Needless to say, it’s been frenetic but we are ready for more because the collective energy we create is almost magical.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate volunteering that has no fear attached to it and is filled with positivity and passion. So here’s to more ‘happy volunteering’, more hands on the field and more smiles at our partner institutions. Let compassion, collective responsibility and commitment be the values we wear as we volunteer together and make this year truly impactful.
The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ came alive in our realm of volunteering this summer, in more ways than one. While it did apply partially to developing new skills, it was best demonstrated in developing empathy among young volunteers. As we know, volunteering can be described as empathy in action and this summer saw us guide young volunteers, while observing how it transformed them. We were delighted to note that the more regularly teenagers volunteered, the better they became at imbibing and demonstrating empathy, and it got heightened by leaps and bounds.
Let me take a few steps back and state that it’s been an incredible summer of volunteering. Our Chennai summer starts sooner, and April and May saw the city experience a high degree of warmth, in terms of both temperature and compassion. We re-started our summer camp, “Summer Camp for Champs” (after a gap of three years) across several partner institutions for children from under represented communities, some with different abilities. The objective was single point – fun, fun and more fun! The past couple of years had been grim for these children and we wanted the summer to sparkle for them.
We started our camps with the best of volunteers, professional, skilled and adult. It started off with aplomb and was received very well by the beneficiaries. That’s when we thought of making the summer immersive for young teenaged volunteers too. Afterall, youngsters had been socially isolated across the board and would find volunteering a definite way to give back to community, while boosting their self-confidence. What better way to help them move away from social isolation, than through volunteering and making them ‘pro-social’.
This gave birth to a new vertical of summer internship (for high school students) at CV. We onboarded a group of high school teenagers as summer interns and let them experiment with innovative formats in volunteering, under close guidance. And what can I say? They absolutely excelled, energising every session, making every day a celebration and surprised even themselves!
As they thrived, they learnt more about their ability to give back, display empathy and show compassion. We, at CV noted that while we are all internally wired with the capacity for empathy, its development requires experience and practice. And there’s no better time to do this than when we’re young and impressionable. Children and teenagers are receptive and have the ability to understand the feelings of others, if guided suitably. They organically imbibe the ability to put themselves into another’s shoes, be aware of their emotions, respect others’ perspectives, and this becomes stronger with practice. Empathy helps us relate to others, work together and form healthy bonds which are the cornerstone of a progressive society. When we feel the pain of those who are most vulnerable, empathy is what makes us want to offer support.
Dalai Lama once said, “Modern education is premised strongly on materialistic values. It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts, a key element of which has to be the nurturing of our compassionate nature.”
Volunteering fills this gap. It develops and nurtures compassion in young people, by helping them practise empathy. This leads to not judging others and creating a positive and happy space for everyone.
On the larger scape, empathy also makes communities more equitable, inclusive and compassionate, and volunteering plays a significant role in its creation. It teaches youngsters to act with empathy regularly and when volunteering is enjoyable, it becomes easy to continue. The energetic teenagers who interned with CV over this summer led by example and by the end of their term, they felt the following: • Confident that they could make a difference. They learnt the value of helping others and saw how they can have an impact beyond themselves. They validated it day after day, group after group and felt more motivated. • Connected with diverse set of people with similar values. Away from their sheltered bubble, they worked closely with people from very different backgrounds and abilities, and forged common interests and values. This made them appreciate other people’s perspectives and be more aware. • Equipped to face the world with new life skills. Volunteering helped these teenagers build new skills with confidence. From showing up on time, engaging in different formats of volunteering and letting their work speak for itself, it represented life beyond what they were used to. They led effortlessly, solved crises on their feet, and took decisions on the spot. • Aware of different career opportunities. Volunteering at various non-profits gave them an insight into new career options ahead of them. It widened their horizon and learnt that every career can also offer an opportunity to solve a real world problem.
In fact, these young interns encouraged us to extend our summer camp to additional NGOs as well. In CV’s summer of 2022, they came, they volunteered and they conquered! Their performance was endorsed by our NGO partners, senior volunteers and social workers who supervised them. Thereby making high school student summer internships at CV a definite vertical for the future.
Moreover, they all want to continue volunteering with their school schedule and some of them shared how they felt:
Akshara, Class X student at Sishya: “I think this volunteering internship has been a very insightful and amazing experience. I love seeing the fascination and interest in these children to learn new things. It was also an amazing opportunity to teach the specially-abled children art & craft and seeing the smiles on their faces made my day! Not only did I teach them but they also taught me a lot. I feel very grateful to be involved in bringing joy to these children.”
Aiswarya, Grade XII student at Omega International “It’s been a wonderful experience to volunteer both online and offline in a short span of time. CV taught me to volunteer in a structured system with co-ordination and volunteer-friendly communication aids that helped me engage during the volunteering activities with ease and interest. It was also delightful to see the vast accessibility of volunteering services to people in need of help. This process was personally a platform of learning things a little closer and CV was extensively supportive.”
Sudithi, class X student from Sishya:
“Volunteering has been an eye opener for me. I have learned so much! I never knew the amount of coordinating and planning that goes into volunteering. Teaching at Sacred Heart and leading the summer camp at Madras Seva Sadan was a real joy. Seeing the kids so excited to learn, being so open to new things really gave me a new perspective on how I should be. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of these activities and will definitely continue to volunteer.”
Here’s to our young volunteers who reiterated our faith in the youth of our nation. If we can help more of them imbibe empathy, we have a generation of impactful leaders.
Summer is vacation time for most youngsters, and they look forward to a break that helps them relax, rejuvenate and revel in new experiences. This year, more than ever as everyone wants to shed off the shackles of the pandemic and have some fun!
What if we told you that you can do all the above, and contribute meaningfully towards society as well? All you need to do is take out a couple of hours every day or even every week and engage in some amazing fun, with deserving people in your city. There is a plethora of volunteer programmes you can join, at NGOs across and around Chennai.
You get to learn firsthand, about the outstanding work being done by NGOs, you step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, meet new people from very diverse backgrounds, learn more about your city, engage meaningfully with beneficiaries of a cause, give back and touch lives like never before. All this while having fun with some new friends!
What you can volunteer for this summer:
Be part of Summer Camp for Champs till mid-May and engage with children across our partner NGOs and schools in a host of fun activities. From magic shows to art and craft, dance to origami, health to grooming, drums circle to clown art, indoor and outdoor games to yoga.
Join our partner NGOs in cleaning up our shoreline, clean up the beach, participate in tree walks and clean up urban forests.
Volunteer at an animal shelter and tend to abandoned animals there.
Be part of our ‘Reading Riders’ and help set up libraries for children in the shelters. This would involve collecting storybooks, indexing and labelling the books and encouraging children to read books by helping them.
Teach Record audio books in Tamil for college students who are visually challenged.
Spend time with elders in shelters and engage with them.
Help specially abled children in an NGO by volunteering at their vocational training centre.
Volunteer you time by doing data entry and administration work for an NGO.
If you have a skill or hobby that you can teach others, you can do so too.
Teach Computer Skills to students in a home.
In short, if you have the time and a skill to share, you could volunteer your time meaningfully and be assured that you will spend a summer to remember. One that will end with a fuller heart and wider smile, and you’d know that you added sunshine to many other lives as well. And that is just one of the perks of being a volunteer, a Chennai Volunteer. (To volunteer with us DM on 9840182299 or email us: contactus@chennaivolunteers)
Volunteers have always been a silent force of positive change. While the pandemic isolated millions, it also saw thousands of volunteers come together, albeit virtually, to make true impact in critical areas of migrant tracking and transport, covid tele-calling support, tele-counselling and real-time information on crucial covid resources. There was a swift pivot to online volunteering for most part of the past two years, with committed people volunteering from home. Of late, since most restrictions have been lifted, volunteers have retraced steps to the NGOs they helped, with a new set of safety protocols in place.
Visiting our NGOs partners across various causes – environment, education, elders, health, women empowerment, animal welfare, homeless and people with disability or special needs has been an eye opener. We perceive a genuine need for resources who can volunteer their skill and time to help these people come out of the lingering aftermath of the pandemic. As citizens, this is our time to emerge resilient and recharged from the shackles of the pandemic that created social distancing, lockdowns and virtual meetings, knowing that we can #vaccinateandvolunteer.
There are infinite number of reasons to volunteer. However, this is a good time to recall the top five reasons you should you be out there. So, these would be your ‘High Five’ for this season:
You meet new people – you must be raring to go out and meet like-minded people, after working or studying from home for the past two years. If you want to make new friends or meet old ones, volunteering is a great option for you to. It’s also a great way to strengthen bonds and make new ones in your community.
2. Feel positive, mentally strong and fulfilled. There are umpteen studies that show that volunteering makes you feel happy and hopeful. Engaging with kindness gives immediate gratification and immense rewards. It creates a connection with people from beyond your daily realm and is a definite boost to your mental wellness.
3. Volunteering permits you to acquire new skills and enhance existing ones. It feels great to be out there, to learn and practise something new with deserving beneficiaries, while helping a cause close to your heart. Furthermore, enhances your ability to solve crises, exude leadership and work as a team. After our limited physical area of influence during the pandemic, this is a breathe of fresh air!
4. You can be the change. Volunteering in-person these days, allows you to observe the challenges in our community, understand it experientially, gain a new perspective and engage as a compassionate community member and agent of change. You get an opportunity to uplift people who have been marginalised farther by the pandemic, by giving time and skill. And this makes you feel accomplished, put your stresses into perspective and feel more gratitude.
5. Most importantly, you feel inspired with a sense of higher purpose. Volunteering makes you reach out and be altruistic, solve their problems and allay their concerns. But, not without having fun! Even the most serious volunteering sessions are laced with smiles and laughter. You get to be the sunshine in someone else’s cloudy day and it makes you feel refreshed and much lighter.
If you need more reasons, you need to experience this yourself and see what your top reason to volunteer is. And if you are currently volunteering, share with us your favourite reason as a comment.
Count yourself in and volunteer because #everyvolunteercounts.
2021 was a year that was marked by crisis and resilience. As volunteers, we were equally uncertain of what we would face or how we would face it, so we started with a simple promise – to make each day matter. At Team CV, we concurred to uphold 4 core values that we sensed would lead us to purposeful volunteering: Compassion, Commitment, Consciousness and Confidence.
In hindsight, these values evolved as our 4 pillars of function and yielded a year that was not only fulfilling for volunteers but equally impactful for our NGO partners and vulnerable communities we engaged with. The year saw us embrace technology and collaborate with varied stakeholders, while leveraging the strength of diverse volunteer groups. While the pandemic threw up new challenges each day, isolated millions physically but it also brought together thousands of people, who learned to volunteer-from-home, as Chennai Volunteers.
It was arduous while we were in it, but today, as I review the work we did, I am filled with gratitude. We not only faced challenges but created innovative means of overcoming them. We reached out to people beyond Chennai and even Tamil Nadu. We collaborated with various stakeholders – the government, new NGOs, skill partners and corporates to explore new initiatives. With ample support, we were able to aid all our partner NGOs with medical relief and provisions. We upskilled them digitally and accustomed them to online engagement. The virtual classroom became a reality for many shelters and schools as we taught them online. Our tele-calling projects for Covid contact-tracing, counselling and post-covid care brought alive stories of courage and strength. The Covid Resource Guide that covered credible sources across ten verticals of immediate need among people going through Covid, was a relentless exercise in accuracy and authentic information, running real-time for 3 months. In short, what we achieved together is tangible enough to make us re-invest in it through the coming year. A quick look shows us some encouraging figures: • We engaged with and helped over 3.8 lakh people across our state, while we clocked over 4 lakh hours of sustained volunteering. • Covid response and relief volunteering was the dominant cause being 88% of the total volunteering rendered. • Health awareness and remote education followed this at a far distance. • Virtual or online volunteering was dominant at 87% as we adhered to Covid protocol most of the year. • In-person volunteering started a few months ago with safety norms in play but we need to see how we can continue this, in the face of the third wave of Covid. • As always, in times of crisis, volunteers came forth to give not just time but also monetary and in-kind material support. • We ended the year with ‘Secret Santa” and “A little bit of warmth,” two community based initiatives that demonstrated the giving power of citizens.
The sum is that we did exceedingly well as a group that wanted to help our city, and I would like to thank each and each one of you for counting yourself in. I also take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Happy and Healthy 2022. We look forward to a year that will see us learn and live to the hilt, while wearing our volunteering hat. This new year will continue to witness new tenets of virtual and hybrid volunteering, peppered with safe in-person experiences.
Let’s reaffirm our belief in making positive change step-by-step and start the new year strong.
The past eighteen months have seen the volunteering community world over change its modus operandi. We rewrote the rudiments of community service and created new SOPs for volunteering. We adapted to the online format and saw some inspiring work that took place for Covid response and relief. As things got safer, we dabbled with the hybrid form before taking slowly restoring face-to-face volunteering (for essential volunteering). However, virtual volunteering is still the mainstay of community engagement, with some tactile measures to enhance impact.
While we have spoken in the past about online volunteers, how about looking at the other end of the baton, the online NGOs. In the present volunteering landscape, the NGO experience is completely virtual for almost 95% of the volunteers. There is still a silent fear of the virus, especially among new volunteers. Moreover, as professionals of the developmental sector, we are aware of how vulnerable our partner NGOs are and try and keep them safe from more external exposure. Hence, the NGO experience is remote, both physically and metaphorically.
Revisiting erstwhile face-to-face volunteering, the first thing I miss is the way it artlessly prepared you for the session. It engendered a natural sensitization to the NGO where you were going to volunteer, without a word. It started when you planned how long it would take to reach the NGO (sometimes close to an hour) and the travel prepared you for their distant existence. Once there, as you walked carefully down a narrow, uneven gully and entered an almost forgotten, humble shelter or school, reality hit you fair and square. As you continued to the venue, the peeling walls revealed untold stories and the shrinking rooms belied the needs of the residents. As the elders looked at you with tired eyes or the children greeted you with shy smiles, you mentally promised them that you would help them for as long as you could. You showed compassion easily. In short, before you started your volunteering session, you knew how much you were needed. That was your starting point. By the time you completed your session, you had experienced your moment of truth, knowing if you had delivered well or needed to make some improvisations. That was the regular, sweet and sweaty NGO engagement.
Contrast that to today’s online format where you sit in an ambient room , cool and unruffled in front of your digital screen. You wait for the NGO beneficiaries to settle in front of their screen as you wait to start volunteering. Your facilitator provides the content (in most cases), you briefly greet the beneficiaries and start engaging. It’s a bit chaotic to begin with, but eventually smoothens into an uninterrupted (in most cases) session. The beneficiaries are decorous and responsive, and you feel happy by the end of the session. You see the joy in the smiles of the people on the other side of the screen and you feel fulfilled. With every session, you steep into it a bit more. With the new tools of volunteering, you achieve the desired outcome and it is indeed fulfilling.
However, what you miss is what a returning volunteer would call, the real NGO experience. While what we are doing online is important, continues to help our NGO partners and their beneficiaries, it is equally important to start creating safe in-person volunteering opportunities soon, with safety protocol in place. • We all need to be vaccinated, sessions should be in covered yet open spaces, everyone should be well-masked, volunteers must keep distance from the beneficiaries and so on. • The hybrid format is the first step forward, with a core volunteer at the NGO and others online. The session is streamed and is coordinated like a physical session. • There are also some tools that can make virtual volunteering more real – with greater connect, personal touchpoints and deeper impact in an online session. For instance, you can send students worksheets, art papers, craft material before-hand, use breakout rooms, address the beneficiaries by name, intersperse the session with fun or action and develop a personal rapport, minimizing the digital divide. It takes more than one engagement and in sustained volunteering, the connect does evolve.
So, here’s to new innovations in volunteering and to making it an essential part of our lives, in the post-covid world. May committed compassion continue to forge new online and offline paths for volunteers and seekers of doing good.
There have been many small variations to the online mode over the past months. Every NGO has a different need and our competence at the online and offline format allows us to interweave both. We have also learnt that a consistent programme can make the presence of online volunteers more palpable and the experience more real, for both the volunteers and the volunteered.
It’s been exactly a year since this, hitherto frowned upon phenomenon,”virtual volunteering” took stage and one can confidently say that it has staked its claim in our world of giving. Many theories have been shared and much said about it – some say Yay while others still say Nay, but whatever our say, we all have embraced it in some measure and manner. As we continue to engage in virtual volunteering programs that are based on one-time, short term and even long term volunteer engagement, let’s look at some reasons that make virtual volunteering more impactful and efficient, giving it an advantage over other forms of volunteering.
Small is big: While the number of volunteers and beneficiaries for an in-person session can be very high, virtual volunteers connect more strongly with the beneficiaries if the volunteer to beneficiary ratio is higher and the overall number per session is small. A small group most definitely will have bigger results, with greater take home value for both parties. Break-out rooms are a great way to enhance focus and connect and this always results in higher impact, for both the volunteer and the volunteered.
More often is better: Volunteering from home also means that we multitaskers can engage more often, with ease. Amller and focused engagement can be monitored and measured, making the program more impactful. While in-person engagement involves travel and time and hence had to be planned less often, online lessons allow us the luxury of responding to a volunteer requirement more frequently, especially with students who need help in academics. Tuitions for senior students in less privileged schools are seeing an increasing need and virtual volunteers are very forthcoming to fulfil this.
Unlimited reach: For virtual volunteers, the world is their oyster and they are able to volunteer for a cause in any corner of the world, effortlessly. All you need (apart from the tech set up at home) is a facilitator who will bridge the gap from both ends. At present we have corporate volunteers from UK who are teaching students core subjects regularly and there are a few senior school students in Chengelpet being coached for the NEET exam by volunteers in Mumbai. There are also virtual volunteers who take regular life-skills sessions for rescued bonded labour in various parts of rural Tamil Nadu.
One-on-one is the new buzzword: While group volunteering sessions are always preferred in person, there are some students who need undivided, individual attention on a regular basis. This could be because they have special needs or they aim very high. Either way, the convenience of volunteering online makes it possible for both parties to engage more effectively and in a one-on-one format on a regular basis. Very often, this also leads to mentoring of the beneficiary and is one of the most fulfilling forms of volunteering.
Flexibility: Since you volunteer online and not all of it is face-to-face, the hours are flexible and can be scheduled to match your schedule. You can choose to volunteer weekly or monthly or take up an assignment that needs to be completed in a particular time and emailed back. You can make your own schedule to work on virtual volunteering tasks. This is ideal for people whose work schedule, family responsibilities or health doesn’t permit them to go out to volunteer. You can still know the joy of giving!
Learn and share new skills from home: Virtual volunteering can be a powerful tool for self-growth and learning. In our world of helping others, you can update your skillset, learn new skills and then share them with others. There are many who have learnt to choose creative ways to volunteer – be it creating content for classroom sessions, storytelling, performing online magic shows, dance and movement therapy, body percussion, art & craft, teaching conversational French, life skills, health & hygiene and more.
Meet inspiring people: Last but not the least, the best part of volunteering is the inspiring people you meet. This is even more convenient when virtual! They could be fellow volunteers or people who run our partner NGOs. ‘Inspired and inspiring’ are values that many people in our sector wear lightly. What you do or where you are from ceases to matter in the face of what you promise and what you finally deliver, to help people. That’s the proof of the pudding and what makes your presence matter.
Virtual Volunteers have crafted personal touch points and hybrid formats to make it as real and effective as in-person volunteering. It’s also more inclusive, with scope for innovation through practice and the best way to test is to start volunteering with http://www.chennaivolunteers.org Welcome to our world of volunteering!
Volunteering makes me feel like a hero! It made me realise that I was able to make a difference in someone’s life, and help them learn. Being associated with Chennai Volunteers and engaging in Conversational English sessions for the middle school students of Oclott School, is very special to me.
I guess I always had a teacher hidden in me and I realised this by volunteering at Olcott school. It’s been a win-win for me . Being with kids and coaching them is refreshing and thought provoking, unlike other volunteering opportunities. We need to ignite our creative side to hold the attention of the kids and teach them with patience. I find every session different, with a new learning. Even during this pandemic, we have continued our sessions using the online medium and that has been a completely new experience in volunteering, for me.
Jai is a lead volunteer at Olcott Senior Secondary School for four years now. He spends one hour every Wednesday morning leading a team of volunteers from Bank of America, in teaching middle school children Conversational English. Beyond his role as a volunteer, he has become a constant factor, a role model and an inspiration for the less privileged children at Olcott School.