“Making volunteering meaningful for NGOs.” This is the thought that led Chennai Volunteers to host a unique programme for NGOs across Chennai as well as potential volunteers to connect and engage with each other.
It was a day that celebrated NGOs and the causes they represented through volunteers from all walks of life, which included individuals, corporates, active seniors, social clubs and professionals. It was a marketplace that gave NGOs the opportunity to present their cause, exchange expertise, network, raise awareness and engage volunteers.
This NGO Fair, hosted as part of the sixth anniversary of Chennai Volunteers, saw active participation of over 60 NGOs and 15 schools for underprivileged students. Most of the NGOs were partners of Chennai Volunteers and had experienced volunteer engagement for the last few years. The event kick-started with walk-throughs of all the NGO stalls, where NGOs explained how volunteers could help and commit their time towards supporting worthy causes.
The causes represented at the event were education and literacy, women, differently-abled, visually-challenged, environment, community service and development, children and youth, senior citizens, art and culture, health and medicine and animal welfare. Positivity, camaraderie and compassion reigned supreme as NGOs told volunteers how they could help and commit their time for worthy causes.
Mr. Rajeev Mecheri, trustee- Mecheri Foundation, and Mentor – Chennai Volunteers, emphasised the need to integrate volunteering into one’s busy life and how India needed volunteers for various missions at all levels.
Mrs. Shyamala Ashok, Executive Director of United Way Chennai and a friend of most of the NGOs present spoke on how the NGOs needed volunteers more than sponsorship these days. She reiterated the importance of nurturing and sustaining volunteers as an NGO and said “CV is one platform where structured volunteering can take place. This fair showed the valued acceptance of CV as a volunteer base for Chennai.”
The event also had an interactive and informative panel discussion on “How volunteering can be made more meaningful for NGOs”, which was moderated by Harish Vittal, a corporate volunteer. The panelists included Arun Krishnamurthy of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), Aruna Subramanium, trustee of Bhoomika Trust and Mahesh Memorial Trust; and Sankara Mahalingam, founder of Dreams Alive and a corporate volunteer himself.
The panelists reiterated that NGOs had to identify volunteering opportunities and work on how volunteers should be developed over time. It was a lively conversation that threw up many ideas and points of view that will determine the way forward for such events. It is also mitigated the myth about volunteering being just recreational and fluff!
In the words of Ms. Aruna Subramanium, “The NGO fair laid a solid and firm foundation for structured interaction between the volunteers and NGO’s and this is going to be mutually beneficial and productive.”
According to Mr. Iyyappan Subramanium, founder Sri Arunodayam Trust, “ This is the first of its kind event to have direct interaction with so many like-minded individuals on a single platform. We had worthy dialogue with the volunteers and are stunned to see how people from all walks of life want to give back to society.”
As Mr. Harish Vittal was on target when he said, ” Know the do’s and don’ts – Volunteering is not a favour but a duty. A person who is volunteering for the first time should be clear about the impact he or she wants to make. He/ she has to understand and prepare adequately for the volunteering that he/she is taking up. Also, there are certain dos and don’ts they have to be aware of. As a volunteer you have to know what is inappropriate. If you are brash in your attitude, it is sure to irritate many people. In such a case, the person is not helping the cause but working against it”
Ms. Jayasree, Director, Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu added, “ CV through this NGO fair has managed to hit the “sweet spot” both for the people who give and for the people who need the support. The NGO fair curated and gathered individuals, corporates and NGO’s to give appropriately to those NGO’s who need the support. This was a step in the right direction and events such as this needs to be regularised. It was a melting pot of inspiring people, genuine causes and committed volunteers with various skill sets.”
And Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy summed it up very well when he said,“social groups need to streamline their efforts and a collaborative approach will serve the common cause better. The NGO fair was the much needed catalyst in bringing all of us together.”
(Chennai Volunteers is a social initiative that fosters volunteerism in our city. For more details, log onto http://www.chennaivolunteers.org or message CV at 9840182299)
“Work hard in silence; let your success to be your noise”
– Frank Ocean
Our volunteer for this month is a lady who volunteers very actively, works hard and yet is the epitome of calm and composure. She has been a Chennai Volunteer for over 5 years now and we have never seen her ruffled or perturbed. So imagine the positive impact she has on the hundreds of children she has engaged with, just by being herself!
Not many new volunteers can see or hear her at our gatherings as she is always content to be an observer and her strongest strength is listening. She is present at all important CV events and is a quiet force by herself. Her social chats are measured but at work, she can speaks loud and clear and this reflects in the impact she creates. Sri Priya is a soft-spoken person but is firm enough to control young and naughty students. She is a trusted, long term volunteer for Spoken English at four institutions and has taken active part in all major short term events like Daan Utsav and other new initiatives of CV in the area of Education for children.
A Chennai girl herself, she completed her schooling from Church Park School and graduated from Asan Memorial College, University of Madras. She worked for a private company for a few years before realising that what she truly wanted to do was give back to society. That’s when she started volunteering through CV and there has been no looking back, ever since.
She is a “professional” volunteer – a new term that we have coined only for her! She doesn’t take off (unless there is a dire situation that needs her attention), is focused, committed and above all, trustworthy. No wonder that she’s loved by all the children she engages with and we’ve seen a positive change in them over the years. She places the developmental needs of the students above all else and uses a lot of innovative formats in her Spoken English sessions, to get the students to focus, respond and improve their conversational skills. Very prompt in feedback, she adds a lot of value to our surveys and response sessions. As a core volunteer of CV, she is always raring to go!
You may not hear her in a crowd but she makes herself heard when it matters; she may not be seen in a sea of people but you can’t miss her when she volunteers.
A perfect blend of professionalism, commitment and quiet compassion, Sri Priya is indeed a Chennai Volunteer we respect immensely and are privileged to showcase her as our Volunteer of the month.
Till recently, I used to think that volunteers were a tribe that gave more, engaged more and hence received more in life. I thought they were special, that it took a deserving NGO, a cause and a relatively structured and protective environment to curate a volunteer experience and then nurture it to factor an impact.
But, now after almost six years of being an observer in this compassionate world, just listening to all the wonderful volunteers I meet and having the privilege of being a citizen of a city that has “giving” embedded in the very fabric of it’s being, I have changed my mind.
Volunteering can be impromptu, emergent and have immense impact for a social cause in an unprotected environment. The impact could be abysmal or superlative, depending on the cause and, to some extent, on how it has been propagated.
Volunteering has two profiles today. The first remains safe, well-intentioned, structured with a proper strategy … for the long term – engaging for a cause at an NGO/ deserving institution with a vision that promises an eventual impact; education, elderly care, hunger, health, vocational training and people with special needs fall under this bracket. This could also include skilled volunteering for the short term with a focused task to be accomplished, like accounting, marketing communications or event management, to cite a few examples.
There is, however, another equally impactful side to volunteering that is gathering momentum fast, where volunteers engage when a community faces emergency, a disaster or a social issue that needs support. Such causes are unexpected, cannot be curated and the response is instinctive and yet based on HOW you reach out to volunteer hearts. I call them “hearts” as the initial response is from that organ. You ache for what went wrong, want to be part of the change or just want to do something to reduce the suffering… hence, you volunteer. The intensity is a lot more than normal, you respond to genuine messages of need and you are willing to give more than usual.
This is when volunteering knows no boundaries of caste, creed or in today’s context. what you eat! What matters is that YOU CARE! You could be a student, a housewife, a professional, a senior corporate or even a retired elder. If you have the passion and have able hands to engage, then volunteering is your business as much as anyone else’s.
In Chennai, the past two years have seen tumultuous tides with fewer crests than deep troughs, but through this entire period, it was volunteers who stood their ground and commanded respect for their selfless contribution. Whether it was the Chennai floods of 2015, Cyclone Vardah of 2016, waterways restoration or other ensuing issues in 2017, we have witnessed an impressive presence of volunteers who have put aside superficial differences and come together for a cause that needs their combined presence. This is more than planned or structured volunteering, it is community-service-on-call! This is when volunteering is everyone’s business and they need to take care of it, together.
Neither the authorities nor the volunteers have advance notice, no credibly secure environment to work in or any idea of how long it will take to solve the issue. Yet, everyone comes together with an odd combination of compassion, faith and pragmatism. Somehow, this combination works and volunteers feel fulfilled when they see a real-time social impact on the community at the end of it.
A strong community is definitely everyone’s business. Social investment ensures that volunteer resources, expertise, creativity and passion in our community creates opportunities for everyone and this is the ultimate gift for a true volunteer.
I conclude by sharing a term I have borrowed from Google and believe in… “VOLUNESIA – the moment when you forget that you are volunteering to help change lives because it’s changing yours.”
So, why shouldn’t volunteering be everyone’s business?
“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.