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Volunteer Matters

Volunteer Matters is an initiative to create a platform for exchange of ideas and information on volunteering. Chennai Volunteers is a social initiative that enables civic engagement and ensure that non-profits can engage with volunteers in a sustainable and meaningful way.

Second Innings – Why seniors should 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!

A marathon coming up in your city? Why not sign up…. as a volunteer ?

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.

Good Samaritan of the month – June 2016

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.

How some volunteers get it right

Skilled volunteering – using your skills to make a difference

Most professionals have a skill that they hone through years of hard work and experience. At their place of work, in office or outdoors, they do the same specified job for years and are used to applying the same skill everyday. It is their forte, their expertise and most often, their source of living. As a volunteer, they are often more comfortable extending the same skill set to people who need it and create a positive impact. You could be working in the services sector as a lawyer, techie, marketing exec, designer, doctor, accountant, project manager , percussionist, therapist, anything really – there must be a cause out there that can make use of your talent and expertise.

There are various reasons one volunteers. The driver could be one of a combination of some of these:

It is well-established that volunteering is key to abundant living. The more you dare, care and share, the more you will receive in terms of gratitude and fulfilment. Your life becomes enriched  through regular volunteering and you develop a new facet to your personality. It feeds your emotional quotient and your thinking becomes more encompassing.

Secondly, in our normal realm of living, we all seek challenge and this is what volunteering provides – an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, reach out to people completely unknown to you and make a positive impact in their life. The experience is very humbling and always gives us the passion to strive and do more. You want to help not yourself, not someone you know but someone who truly needs it.

Thirdly, everyone enjoys extending a helping hand and it is so simple that you get attracted to the sheer ease of doing good. Once you have bitten the bullet, volunteering your skill becomes the norm. Very often, people weave volunteering into the fabric of their being and seamlessly extend their skills for both, profit and pro bono.

It is also true that everyone is equal as a volunteer – the volunteering world is one space where everyone is a peer, regardless of their credentials and status. What you deliver is what makes you special. In fact, I would also say that the giver and receiver are both equal. You rediscover yourself for what you truly are, without the trappings of the competitive world and this keeps you rooted and grounded. Of course, you also meet new people, build new relationships and appreciate other people for what they are. You learn to respect people and think from their point of view.

Thankfully, there are volunteering initiatives that know how to match professionals and organisations – creating a spark of social good.

At Chennai Volunteers, we actively seek skilled volunteers for various volunteering requirements. From something as serious as a software platform that manages the residents’ database at an NGO to movement therapy for beneficiaries with special intellectual and physical needs; from accounting advice to interactive percussion sessions; from counselling to sports training.. you name it, we have facilitated such matches. The need and its corresponding skill or talent has varied but the one factor that remains constant is the resultant positive impact, accompanied by gratitude, fulfilment and genuine happiness that only selfless giving can achieve.


What is Chennai summer for our kids without some fun, both in and out of the sun!
This is true for all of us with children. With summer holidays just round the corner, we start thinking of how we can enrich them with new hobbies, creative learning and just simple fun. The children themselves look forward to this break when they can meet friends and family and have a great time pursuing what they enjoy the most.

Well, there are some children who actually dread these holidays, rather than looking forward to them. These holidays reiterate the fact that they have no one to go back home to when school shuts, no one who visits them during the holidays ….. in short, no one who cares.

CV curates summer camps at select children’s homes across our city, for two weeks each. We fill up their days with workshops by experts in theatre, dance, public speaking and music; sessions on science, math, reading, arts and craft; some fun with indoor games and outdoor sports. Based on what the children will enjoy, we fill up their days with volunteering activities. And today, as we approach the third summer of such camps, the children are waiting to hear from us!!

You could also join CV as we create centres of learning through fun for the children at our partner NGOs across Chennai. We seek volunteers who will join us for 2 hours a day ( morning or early evening, on weekdays or weekends ) from April 25 to May 7, to engage with children at various homes by teaching, organising creative sessions, recreational games and lots more.
If you are interested, please log onto and register as a volunteer or message us your details at 9840182299.


Women Volunteer


“ The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it”

– Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was a beacon of hope for the needy and continues to be an inspiration for many who want to do service for the helpless in their lifetime. While I do not believe that something as universal as volunteering can be limited by gender, International Women’s Day got me thinking about the history of women volunteers and a particularly celebrated one as well. The role of women as a voluntary force to be reckoned with can be traced back to World War 1 in 1914, when patriarchy was the norm and women did not work. During the war, almost 80,000 volunteers were mobilized in various support roles such as auxiliary nurses, ambulance drivers, teachers, cooks and workers in traditionally male jobs in factories. I am sure it was due to their indomitable spirit that some also went on to serve in combatant roles in Russia. They served in their home countries and sometimes even across borders. Several organizations such as QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service), VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), FANY(First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) were instituted for enterprising women volunteers who went beyond the call of duty and braved the conditions to help and serve. A similar trend can be seen in Indian history where women bravely led the way to serve selflessly, on and off the battlefields. We have all grown up reading stories of women working for those in need. In Modern History, we also hear of women like Mridula Sarabhai, a nationalist who was in charge of recruiting and training women volunteers for the Indian National Congress. Even after India became independent and moved away from the cries of war and freedom struggles; unfettered by political restraints, one person stands tall as a universal force in the world of service with a smile – Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997) also known as Blessed Teresa was an Albanian Roman Catholic religious sister and missionary. She was born in Skopje(Macedonia) from where she moved to Ireland at the age of 18 years and then to India, where she lived for most of her life. A true humanitarian, she spent many years working among those who were dying or sick. Mother Teresa chose to “serve the poorest of the poor and to live among them and like them.” She saw beauty in every human being. Along with others of the Missionaries of Charity, she strove to make the lives and deaths of those around them more peaceful and full of love. She fed, washed, and cared for anyone who needed the assistance. In 1950, Mother Teresa officially established the Missionaries of Charity with 12 members. Today, there are thousands of members (both men and women) of the Missionaries of Charity all around the world. Realizing the need for a home to care for those who were dying alone in the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa set up “Nirmal Hriday” which means the “Pure Heart.” Nirmal Hriday was a home where homeless, dying individuals were washed, given food, and allowed to die with dignity. As one of the most decorated nuns in the world, she wore her laurels with humility, only seeking how she could serve the helpless, the poor and needy. Though controversy stalked her a couple of times, she brushed it off with even more good work.

Mother Teresa is a huge inspiration for social workers and volunteers alike. She has left behind a rich legacy and her life demonstrates how good intent can be translated into selfless service by taking small steps in the right direction.

Even recently, she was in the news posthumously, for her canonization by the Vatican before the end of this year. On Women’s Day, we salute her and all women who epitomize the spirit of service and volunteering. At Chennai Volunteers, we see them everyday in our field of work and life and acknowledge the compassion and commitment they bring with them.

Good Samaritan of the month

Weaving a story on values.. Chennai Volunteers Spoken English session

“Some people want change to happen, some wish it to happen, others make it happen. ”

Our Samaritan for the month is our first official volunteer on the Chennai Volunteers portal. She was a friend who was already a ‘giver-at-heart’ and a regular volunteer for various causes at different NGOs

Today, Sonali Panjabi is known to most other volunteers as she is active during our volunteer orientations. Instrumental at the launch of Spoken English sessions at most new institutions, she trains new volunteers on how the sessions work. She started her association with Chennai Volunteers by teaching Spoken English with a group of us at Madras Sewa Sadan in 2011. Talented, engaging and fun, in a span of two years, she was simply everywhere! From a regular volunteer to a core coordinator to a team-lead for Spoken English, she has contributed to the growth of Spoken English at CV in a big way

As a volunteer, she radiates warmth, enthusiasm, a passion to teach and compassion for all. A lady with many skills, she runs her business, travels the globe and yet is always there as a Chennai Volunteer. Her radiant energy and positivity is what makes her special to all volunteers and students alike. She can now conjure up a Spoken English module for students promptly and is always up for a new challenge. She can create a story on the spot… depending on the situation, focus group and their requirement. She can make students sing, dance and move.. all in English! We call her the Pied Piper” of Spoken English sessions as the children just love their “Sonali Aunty” and she can’t get enough of them either!

Sonali has successfully woven volunteering into the fabric of her being. She graduated from teaching Spoken English to another cause – feeding the hungry! We know a returning volunteer by the force she (or he) carries with her. Sonali personifies that. She almost single-handedly led the entire “Serving Smiles” project during Daan Utsav 2015. In fact, she created an innovative methodology of making it a success while she was on the other side of the globe! She intuitively used the principles of remote volunteering in this case and it was a delight for all her, her friends who came together for her and the beneficiaries at our partner NGOs.

I am sure she will continue to surprise and delight all of us, in her imitable manner.. Our Good Samaritan for the month, Mrs. Sonali Panjabi reiterates the adage that good things come in small packages.

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