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.