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Our Volunteer of the Month, Senthil Kumar

July 2020

“There are so many people out there working with great grassroots and global and national organizations that are unsung heroes to me.” Bonnie Rait

As someone who works in the developmental sector, I dwell on her words often I continue to be inspired by the unsung heroes I meet. They seek no acknowledgement nor public mention. They have a mission in life and they eat, breathe and live to achieve that. This becomes their raison d’etre.

One such person is Senthil Kumar, the founder trustee of CHILD, an NGO that works for the development and welfare of deserving children, in Kolathur, a suburb of Chennai. Senthil started a home in 2005, for young boys who were shunned and stigmatised because their parents were HIV positive, as well as some abandoned street children. Thus was born CHILD, to nurture them with love, dignity and sound values . And this is what reflects in all the boys who call it their home today, confidence that they will achieve their goals in life.

Since he could not house girls in the same home, he started working actively for girls affected by HIV in the same suburbs and instituted a programme ‘I Support A Girlchild’( ISAG) to sponsor the nutrition and education of over a hundred HIV affected girls. Over the recent period of lockdown, he realized that they were affected very badly and facilitated the distribution of nutrition kits and monetary support for over 600 HIV infected and affected families with the help of Bhoomika. Today, he has become the main source of support and welfare for all these girls and is helping them realize their dreams of becoming financially independent and empowered. In his words, “Breaking the deeply embedded stigma attached to HIV affected youngsters and getting them to complete their education is very difficult,” says Senthil who thinks a lot still needs to be done to enhance awareness among people.

But it isn’t for this that I call him a hero. It is because this is not all he does!
Every time he sees someone around him get affected adversely, Senthil goes beyond his call of duty and helps in every possible way. We saw this even recently during the lockdown period of the pandemic. Though the children were all quarantined in Child, Senthil was on the field, volunteering and collaborating with NGOS like Cancer Institute and Bhoomika Trust.
He drove his van over 50 kms everyday to pick-up and drop back the employees of Cancer Institute, for many weeks and ferried their immunity compromised senior citizen patients as well. Senthil also managed the operations at the Bhoomika relief centre in Chennai for over 10 days, taking full charge of logistics, distribution and volunteers. He volunteered his time generously for distributing relief kits himself, too.

Soft spoken and humble, he did all this quietly. His day used to start early in the morning and it used to be late in the night when he used to get back to CHILD. Taking care of the kids never took a back seat as he ensured they were engaged with enough virtual sessions with volunteers and their nutrition was taken care of. I am pretty sure he is thinking of his next project even now, because this man’s need to help never ceases. Just like a hero.

Effective Volunteering in COVID times

Volunteers have always been a force by themselves. By virtue of consistently practising compassionate and helpful acts, they find it within themselves to accelerate this behaviour during times of need, especially at times of crisis or disaster. They all feel an innate need  to do their bit to make a difference and if we can channelize this in a structured format, it makes the resultant impact is huge.

Volunteering during the times of this pandemic has been both ‘on-ground’ and ‘online’. Whether people are volunteering in areas of relief, migrant tracing, assisting health workers, attending to the needs of isolated elders, counselling patients or contact tracing, the experience has been dynamic and responsive. What started as independent volunteering projects have now become collaborative and cohesive. * Add an example here

While the COVID-19 has self-isolated billions of people, it has prompted thousands across our country to volunteer in many innovative ways and brought alive, the concept of #togetherapart. There are statistics to prove that more people are taking to volunteerism now, primary because they have time on hand and it’s never been more accessible – one can volunteer from home! Moreover, the benefits of volunteering in making one feel more optimistic and confident makes it’s spread almost viral itself. * Stats

So, despite the coronavirus, volunteering  has continued to thrive as people find new means of connecting and giving their time and skills to deserving communities.  Infact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that volunteers have been at the forefront of the Covid 19 response. People have found so many ways to make the present situation better:

  • Making masks
  • Helping elderly with essential / medical needs
  • Hospital runs for dialysis patients
  • Follow up with migrants – identification, location, movement to shelters and finally back home on train
  • Packing provision kits
  • Delivering provision kits
  • Helping frontline workers
  • Contact tracing
  • Psycho-social counselling

Apart from this, there are other ways of connecting beyond the pandemic as well:

  • Virtual concerts are being gifted to NGOs
  • Pranayama and yoga classes for youngsters and elders alike
  • Conversational English and French language sessions
  • Storytelling sessions for young children
  • Career counselling for senior students
  • Digital literacy for women and college students
  • Handwriting challenges for students
  • Recreational sessions on doodle art, magic shows, interactive drumming and even dance lessons
  • Teachers on-boarding for digital mode of teaching

In short, the study and work from home culture has actually facilitated volunteer-from-home in a big way! In the face of multiple lock-downs, physical distancing and no socialising, the volunteer movement is mobilizing, moving online, and finding entirely new ways to play a crucial role in the coronavirus response.

For more details, log onto http://www.chennaivolunteers.org

Volunteer of the month: Sherin Asha

“ I don’t want to walk down the trodden path,
I don’t want to be shaped to fit into society.
I would rather find my path and shape my own future.”

These words capture the essence of Sherin Asha, an old friend of CV. It wouldn’t suffice to call her a lead volunteer, she is more like a leader who also volunteers. She chooses to live by the “YES Attitude” and never lets a volunteering opportunity go by unattended, be it as a speaker, theatre resource, trainer or even a field volunteer.

Her personal journey has taught her to face life’s ebb and flow with calm and equanimity, qualities that she brings with her to any volunteering assignment. A social worker, she teaches soft skills to youngsters, educates and mentors deserving college students and reaches out to deserving communities. Her compassion and courage make her a tough field volunteer to reckon with and yet she can surprise you with her sense of humour and histrionics when she is in a training session!

Sherin is the President of Velicham Educational Movement, an initiative she founded in 2008 to help sponsor the college education of deserving students from smaller towns and villages. This gave purpose to her passion and she has volunteered actively, ever since.

In the past month, Sherin has worked actively as an on-field volunteer for Covid 19 relief, especially in Tiruvallur district, where she helped reach provision kits to migrant families in far flung places. She recounts many touching moments during her recent work. In her own words,

“ We used to head out every morning and finish distributing provisions only by late night. I met many needy people but one incident that stood out for me was when we reached out to a North Indian migrant family in SIPCOT, Gumidipoondi. They were so overwhelmed with relief when they saw us that they cried with their hands folded in gratitude and clapped to thank us. I will never forget them and at that moment, I could only thank God for using me as an instrument to reach poor people.”

Sherin says that her work across various functions during Covid 19 relief has taught her courage and the importance of team work & effective communication. Lessons that she hopes will stay with her for long.

Having completed her work with Covid 19 relief, she is presently volunteering in a nearby village, to improve the mental health of young children through structured motivation and values based leadership programmes.

When asked about one quality that every volunteer should possess, she says, “commitment from the heart is imperative to volunteer sincerely.”

Well, she certainly embodies it on and off the volunteer arena and we are proud to have her as part of our community. We know that Sherin is only a phone call away and the YES in her voice makes her very special to us.

Diary of a virtual volunteer in the times of Covid 19

Locked down in our homes, consumed by the expanding girth of the virus, we all are experimenting with new channels (literally and metaphorically) to keep ourselves busy! Innovation has become the master of necessity and we can see new forms of virtual living and learning all around us.

This has also been a time to introspect and as volunteers our thoughts are with children who are cooped up in a small home, under foster care, with minimal recreation. In most cases there is complete absence of formal academic stimulus and contact with the external world, which in many cases, serves as their vision board to a better future. To elevate the mental well-being of these children and to beat monotony from from setting in, we have been engaging children across needy homes with specially conceived modules of experiential learning, that have higher impact and interest. All this, through our agents of positivity and change, who are optimizing their valuable time and skills to bring lasting changes in lives of underprivileged children.One such person is Komal NagendraPrasad, a dentist by profession and a proud Chennai Volunteer.

Here’s more about her sessions, in her own words.

“It’s amazing how technology can be put to use these days, and I am very happy we are using it for a good cause. A child’s mind needs to be active and be able to learn new things every day. Being playful, they would be considering this lockdown as a vacation and all they would want to do is to play all day. It’s good if they could get some physical exercise every now and then, but even they get tired of playing the same thing everyday. Hence, to keep the knowledge flowing, we from Chennai Volunteers have been conducting online interactive sessions which involve activities like story telling, conversational English plans, etc. using the online interactive app’s.
Through such interactive sessions, I have made sure to incorporate few children’s stories with good morals and values, in animated form.
And this method works! The children are eager to learn and are more attentive in these sessions. They are able to grasp the information better and are ready to implement it in their daily lives. I make it a point to give them homework in the form of DIY activities or craftwork so that they can stay engaged with the subject, till longer and at leisure. It’s been fun interacting with them every day and it’s kept me busy in uncertain times like these. I guess humanity has come closer now than ever before. I hope everyone is staying safe and following the lockdown protocol as implemented by the government.”

#stayhome #staysafe

Be a Virtual Volunteer

Virtual volunteering is an effective way to contribute during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Volunteers are most often people who lead from the front, blaze the trail on ground zero and set the path for others to follow. And the others inevitably do follow, because goodness and giving have a ripple effect like none other. Chennai is no stranger to such phenomena and our citizens are not new to volunteering in times of normalcy and disaster, alike.

As a volunteer, I have been part of citizenship efforts in times normal and severely abnormal. In terms of the latter, we have volunteered through floods, water scarcity, cyclones and earthquakes. We have rallied thousands of volunteers for hundreds-of-thousands of hours, over almost hundreds of days to reach out to needy people with help. We have cooked, served and sent thousands of hot meals to the hungry, sent lakhs of survival kits to the helpless and those rendered homeless, across boundaries. After all, that is what volunteers do, right?

But, what if you’re a volunteer caught in a situation where you can’t step out? When you know the situation is grim and demands volunteers, but you can’t be there on the field. This is the situation a lot of us find ourselves in today, given the nature of the pandemic Covid 19 we are facing. We are ready, want to help, are sincere and committed, yet are facing a new challenge – to serve, reach out and impact the needy, without being physically present………

This is part of an article that describes 16 ways to volunteer from home, during this time of lockdown. Written by Rinku Mecheri, founder Chennai Volunteers & trustee Bhoomika Trust, it was published in Citizen Matters, Chennai. You can read the full article here:

16 ways to volunteer from home during the COVID lockdown

 

Volunteer Of the Month, March 2020

Volunteer Matters is proud to showcase stellar individuals who live a life by giving and serving others. Our volunteer of the month is Mr. Mahendren Ramalingam. He works as a Senior Advisor to Management, Hanu Reddy Realty, leads a full life other than Chennai Volunteers and has woven volunteering into his life, actively.

After a chance meeting at one of our monthly volunteer orientations, we were amazed by his zest for giving and eagerness to explore volunteering. He started his volunteering with one educational institution and then extended it to more. Today, he volunteers as a teacher at corporation and government-aided schools teaching Conversational English and Computer Science. He also works with students with special needs helping them in communication and experiential learning.

In his own words, ”teaching has always been something I’ve loved to do since my student days at University and when the opportunity was given to teach school children at Chennai Volunteers, there was no hesitation to take up the task. It is such a joyful and uplifting experience and I look forward to being with the children every day.
Ever grateful to the Chennai Volunteers for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I wish the organisation all the very best in their endeavours to bring about a positive change in our society. Thank You.”
We should be thanking you, Mr. Mahendren. You bring sunshine and hope to so many young lives, we are privileged to have you amongst us.

Why do you volunteer?

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“I volunteer to fulfil my social responsibility of giving back. I am lucky to have had great support from my parents & environment to grow to this level but many others don’t! I am happy that I have a channel to create opportunities for youngsters.”

Meet our volunteer for the new year, Jan 2018.. Ganesh.

The best things in life cannot be seen or touched.. they must be felt from the heart.

This is what made a shy and reticent young man become a believer in volunteerism. He felt and sensed his way through volunteering, initially testing waters, before he took the deep dive!

Ganesh is a young professional who chanced upon CV and decided to give it a shot. His first shot at volunteering was at a home for elders where he signed up to entertain them and somehow took charge of the show. He was applauded for his efforts and this appreciation, alongwith his own sense of fulfilment that he could spread cheer among needy elders, transformed him into a believer.

Today, one year since and counting, Ganesh has been a key volunteer at most of our volunteer events. He balances his work pressures and volunteering commitments with the same calm, quiet and balanced demeanour, as he does everything else in life. A quiet worker, Ganesh is extremely focused, and comes alive when he is with the beneficiaries. From environment-related causes to managing marathons, from scribing for the visually challenged to encouraging specially-abled children on their sports day, from managing the  registrations at a blood donation camp to spending days at the flood relief camp, Ganesh has done it all in his quiet manner. He personifies “putting the cause before self” and volunteers from his head and heart. It’s almost as if he is experiencing and trying out various aspects of volunteering to see how much he can push himself beyond his comfort zone. Well, all I can say is that he is doing well and going strong,

He also believes strongly that volunteering has transformed him and CV has given him a sense of belonging.  He is almost part of the CV team, is always ready to raise his hand and  has made several friends among volunteers. But more than this, the impact he sees in the eyes of the people he engages with, keeps him going and it’s a passion he has discovered.

In his own words. “The happiness and fulfilment you get when you help someone is something you must experience at least once in your life time and i feel elated to be a part of CV!”

Team CV is equally proud of having him as part of our team and we really look at him for support in the future as well. It is people like Ganesh that keep an civic initiative booming.

Thank you, Ganesh and here’s to many more fulfilling moments together.

 

Chennai Volunteers’ NGO Fair 2017

“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)

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