They made my day and gave me strength to fight back – says Gunja Vasant

Today we share with you special volunteering reflection… Gunja Vasant, Asst. Manager at Godrej Properties Ltd. She takes interest in conducting workshops, interacting with children. She comes with a reach experience; feedback on her ways has been very impressive Here she shares her experiences as a volunteer…

Your role as a volunteer?

I was suppose to interact with kids of various age group starting from 5 years – 13 years and find out what exactly should I do so that they derive optimum benefit from my volunteering. After interacting with them I realized they were not having enough confidence to put forward their points or their strengths because they were too shy or haven’t got enough exposure except their own surroundings.

So I started my volunteering by some ice breaking activity where in I helped them do their daily studies or homework. I taught them mathematics which they were not very good at, kids narrated poems and some basic English terminology like who is a Mason, plumber etc along with its spelling.

After that I had organized a drawing competition on the Independence Day theme. For which all the kids were very excited. I also gave them a small background about how did we get independence from British and narrated our history in a story form. Which I asked them to remember and asked them several questions on it on my next visit. And to my surprise each and every small point was also covered by the kids and they remembered the minute’s details of the story which I narrated.

After attending few sessions I realized that there were groups among them and they would always stay in their group and not interact with others. So to break this notion I played with them some group driven activities. And all of them enjoyed it so much that they wanted to play the games in my next visit also. So now they started mixing more and helping each other more than before.

After this I initiated some craft related activities. Wherein whatever the kids knew they had to teach each other that stuff. It started with making a paper house which a girl called Sunita was very good at. She stood up and demonstrated how to make a paper house. And rest all of them followed her and now everyone learnt how to make a house out of paper. And it gave the girl more confidence to stand up in front of a group and speak or talk like a leader. This was a point where I feel that the next generation should get this opportunity to come in front and talk. These kids are so bright and sharp that they pick up things immediately. Their brains are also so sharp that if they get the correct guidance along with good opportunities they can come out as bright future for our country.

How has volunteering helped you as an Individual?

Kids are always a source of learning, right from the way they interact with strangers till they become friends with them and then they start sharing their true self with you.

At times I was surprised at the way these kids can react to certain instances. And these bright kids can give back to our country so well even though they come from an under privileged background.

For me the biggest take away was no matter what is the situation if you are happy then u can make the world around you smile.

A small example was when these kids were not talking to each other and were constrained to their set of friends. And after they had some group activities, they all came up with same wish that they want to play a certain game which may be few of them never wanted but just because majority of them wanted they all agreed to play together. These are the small things which we have forgotten while staying in this big corporate world.

Be a human first and help each and every person to rise, all are not equal few are very strong while others need some help to come up to that level and as a group all the hurdles can be crossed and the targets can be achieved.

What did you love about your project?

The thing that I loved about my project was interacting with the kids. They made my day and gave me strength to fight back no matter what and taught me to look at things from different perspective.

Share one incident which was the highlight of your volunteering experience

There are so many instances when I was taken back with but would like to share 2 of them.

  1. After attending 2 sessions when I couldn’t go for the 3rd session which was not scheduled, but I used to visit once a week, so the kids were expecting me. Again when I went in the 4th week they asked me why dint I visit them last week they were waiting for me. Made me realize that the kids can get attached so easily and they can accept new people and things so fast may be faster than we can even think of.
  2. These kids from under privileged background may not have access to many basic requirements of life but still their minds are so bright and sharp that they can learn anything so easily that if they will get correct guidance and some support they can come out as very bright individuals.

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend volunteering to a colleague/friend?

10 – Everybody should be involved in this kind of project in one or other way.

Not just another year gone by ..

I first heard about iVolunteer from a friend with whom I was studying a certificate course in Social Entrepreneurship in 2012. He was a software engineer, a typical profession of the expanding Bangalore population but his heart lay in social policies and volunteering. He was a volunteer member of iVolunteer and spoke highly of his experiences with them. I also happen to meet one of iVolunteer’s Bangalore team members at a volunteering event. She informed me of volunteer orientations sessions and how attending them could translate into joining iVolunteer as a volunteer and get to be part of an amazing fun-filled and enriching activities with NGOs.

My job profile of counselling corporate employees was such that I worked at odd hours and odd days such as weekends. It was also requiring me to do a lot of readings as it was an evolving science. The only way I was connected with iVolunteer was the emails I received from them about NGO events. Though I could never joined one but from the range of emails received I felt that it was one of the most sought after NGOs in Bangalore in volunteer engagement and management.

Fast forward to January, 2014 I received an email stating requirement of additional support in iVolunteer center, Bangalore. I sent my resume and in a couple of weeks I was sitting in iVolunteer office coordinating training programs for the Not For Profits in Bangalore such as Excel training, Project planning, Social media strategy and the like. From coordinating with volunteers for painting the walls with children friendly pictures at Bal Bhavan to organizing corporate volunteers for a hand washing campaign in government schools, corporate volunteering projects would vary providing a unique learning experience.

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I had known iVolunteer as an avenue for event based volunteering before. Since last two years iVolunteer has been completely focusing in building its various skill based volunteering initiatives. These initiatives are bringing in professionals to NGOs who otherwise might be hard to reach for.  For instance, getting a marketing manager to volunteer to train a group of Non-Profits on online marketing strategies or a graphic designer who volunteers to design a logo for a newly registered NGO are some of the highlights of the various programs run by iVolunteer now. Through skill based volunteering NGOs have a fair chance of breaking new grounds and grow strategically.

I can see iVolunteer tapping into the potential of both skill based and event based volunteering. On one hand it is promoting skill based volunteering through its major initiatives such as providing an advisory board (consisting of volunteer veteran professionals) to NGOs – Whiteboard;  capacity building of NGOs – GYAN (Get Your Answers Now) and linking individual with skills in Marketing, HR, IT, Communication to NGOs which require help in any of the four skill areas – Impact Project. While on the other hand through Corporate Employee Volunteering Programs iVolunteer is promoting volunteering and civic consciousness in the employees of corporate companies.

To cut a long short story it was not just another year gone by. It was a year of building new relationships, networking with like-minded people and learning to remain calm and being creative in times of unexpected challenges. As a new year beckons I look forward to what it has in store for me! Until next December 2015!

Does Ghana comes after Singapore-My experiences of VSO volunteers

11 years and a few hundred VSO volunteers, the iVolunteer overseas program has come a long way. Not only it gave Indians an opportunity to volunteer overseas and gain valuable skills but also helped them broaden their horizon and provide a whole life change experience. And it was not all work. Since we started we have had volunteer having babies, volunteers finding love in the countries where they were placed. Talk about changing lives and yes we were doing it.

I had my share of incidents while interacting with volunteers. Earlier we used to conduct in person assessment days to select volunteers. Our personal interview was very deep had questions around relationships . I remember once I was training another selector to take the interview. He was asking the questions about marriage and relationships. The applicant was someone in their 40s. And this is how it went.

Selector: Are you married?

Applicant: Yes I’m married and my wife works with a NGO.

Selector: Are you in a relationship?

Applicant ( Little confused) : I just told you that I’m married

Selector ( in a slightly hush hush voice) : Don’t worry, you can tell us we will not tell anyone.

There was this 2 second silence which seemed like hours.Thankfully the applicant started laughing and an awkward movement was avoided.

One of the qualities that we look in our volunteers is sensitivity to the need of others. During one of the earliest assessment days we asked an applicant as to why he wants to go overseas keeping in mind that his wife was  going to deliver a baby in the next couple of months. He answered  with a straight face ” See the baby is going to sleep for the first 12 months most of the time, so I  can just leave and come back in a year and neither the baby nor him would have missed much”. His interview ended there.

As you work with volunteers you realise that in India we never grow to be an adult- first parents and then wife :). My colleague Ranjan would get calls from desperate parents who want to know where we are sending their kids never mind the kid is 40 something. Ranjan was very strict and all calls will to him will come with terse reply ” Mr Sharma, your son is 40 years old. I refuse to speak to you about his placement”. I was not so strict and as a result one day I got a call from a volunteer who was supposed to go somewhere in Africa ” Mr Rahul I really want to volunteer but my wife is not letting me do that. Can you please speak to her and convince her”. I promptly responded ” Sir I can’t even convince my wife to make Parantha’s for breakfast, what makes you think I can convince yours”  and the conversation ended.

Sometimes volunteers will come with their family to Delhi before they board the flight to their placement countries. For a lot of them this is the first time they were travelling abroad. So naturally everyone is super excited. Their families asks all kinds of questions about where in Africa we are sending them or if its safe for them. One of the cutest incident that I remember was with this volunteer who was going to Ghana. Her sister who was in her 30s came to me and then with all her earnestly asked me that while travelling to Ghana whether Ghana comes before or after Singapore. For a moment I was at my wits end and then I remembered that earth is round. Quickly gathering my wits I responded ” Well it entirely depends upon whether we go clockwise or Anti-clock wise from India. But for now we can only afford to send your brother clockwise which means he cannot do a day stop at Singapore”

Those days were fun and then Salesforce came into our lives. That would be a story for another blog post.

Code for a Cause

This November several Non Profits from across India were invited to participate at the eBay Opportunity Hack. Held at their Chennai and Bangalore offices this tech for good event was created by a cross-functional team at eBay with an idea of matching highly-skilled volunteers (i.e. top-notch engineers and other professionals from eBay and other local companies) with Non-Profit organizations that need technological solutions to address critical challenges.

iVolunteer presented our challenge of ‘Inspiring a nation to Volunteer by sharing stories of Everyday Heroes to this platform.’ We made it through the initial rounds and were invited to ‘Pitch’ our challenge to an audience of about 120+ software engineers, developers and designers.

Ebay Hack-a-thon 2014It was heartening and encouraging to see the diverse and intriguing nature of 20 odd challenges that were presented in total. These included a whole range of needs from Web cum Mobile based Apps that  aid in real time updates for Blood Donation to apps to help identify missing children and ways for people to track and monitor their carbon footprint.

All the volunteers were engaged and determined to leave only once they had achieved some tangible good.

 

The three volunteers who worked on the ‘iVolunteer Awards Web App’ were Charanjit Singh, Pulak Bhattacharyya and Jignesh Kakadia. They didn’t sleep at all, determinedly coding for 36 hours!

These volunteers not only built this platform from scratch but are also co-ordinating with friends and colleagues to help finish the iVolunteer Awards Web platform and add new features to it!

Here are excerpts from a chat with these volunteers.

Tell us about yourself – “I am currently working as software engineer at InMobi and have I worked on C++, Javascript and C. My area of expertise is Full-stack Web Development, Node.js and Backbone. I heard about Hack-a-thon via www.challengepost.com. - Jignesh Kakadiya

“ I am a technology enthusiast having more than 9 years of experience in varieties of web technologies like HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript MVC frameworks. I came across Ebay hack-a-thon through social media and a few friend told me about it.”  – Pulak Bhattacharyya

“I work as an independent software contractor. Being a freelancer, I’ve worked in diverse technologies from writing web, desktop and mobile applications to Javascript and Python. I also have experience in maintaining infrastructure for large apps aka database/sys admin. I came to know of Ebay Hackathon from Pulak whom I met at a meeting.” - Charanjit Singh

Any particular reason why you chose to volunteer / hack for iVolunteer Awards?

It was my first hackathon and it was a wonderful experience. Writing code for about 30 hours straight with two very smart people, well that’s a luxury. I came to ebay hackthon with my own idea about creating awareness among masses, about people who actually care about society. iVolunteer has similar motives and is an already established platform, so I decided to hack for them. We had very limited deadline and we were almost done with writing all the code. We were wondering if we had got it right? But When team iVolunteer liked the app, that was a glorious moment. - CharanjitEbay Hackathon volunteers

I really appreciate the job what iVolunteer is doing and strongly believe in encouraging and rewarding people to volunteer for a social cause. This can make a big impact in our society and the Ebay hack experience was amazing. During the project execution, we did not sleep! That was quite memorable as i remember how darkness ended with the morning sun” – Pulak

“There were many NGOs that participated at Hackathon. I was excited and even If I was able to solve a single problem of organization, it would be a great experience. This was the first time I was awake for 40 hours straight. It was fun to see the project grow from zero, to live and usable by the end of the day. We all had different skill sets. But after few hours of started working on project, it felt like we are the team that any project requires.” – Jignesh

Tell us about your other volunteering experiences

 I have volunteered before with Mozilla and KDE, both are Open Source Organizations. It feels amazing after you contribute. Volunteering is an opportunity you should never miss. Please contribute to open source and volunteer with NGOs. They are looking for volunteers to make peoples life easier and while contributing and one gets an opportunity to work with great minds. - Jignesh

Ebay hack, was the first time I volunteered for a social cause and I felt very happy and satisfied to contribute technologically towards a noble cause that iVolunteer has been doing all these years. I urge fellow I.T professionals to volunteer their technical skills and expertise to help such NGOs  – Pulak

I have volunteered  before in my home town, but never as a software developer. Volunteering to code for a cause is good and one of the best things a coder can do for himself. It’s inspirational and fun at same time. – Charanjit

 

Looking for brave hearts to volunteer abroad with VSO @ Voluntary Services Overseas

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We are looking for committed professionals between the age group of 27 to 64 with a minimum of four years of work experience and with a penchant to share their skills and learn about new cultures. Most importantly you should be in a position to give a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 2 years of your time towards this effort.

About VSO

VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. Their high-impact approach brings people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and action to change lives and make the world a fairer place.

Along with your skills and experience check if you have the following traits which will make you a volunteer extraordinaire!

You’re resilient and adapt well to new situations. You’re able to facilitate positive change and build sustainable working relationships. But most of all, as this is the vision of VSO, you’re competent to seek and share knowledge.

What we offer:

  • Home country funded allowance, medical insurance, travel costs, accommodation and an allowance to cover your basic living expenses while overseas according to the destination country
  • The chance to gain a new life experience and professional development in an international setting

In case of interest, please write in and/or send in your CVs to rohini@ivolunteer.org.in. Only shortlisted CVs will be responded to.

When it all came tumbling down – Week 4 – LVP

“Am sorry, you had informed me on Friday, but I forgot to tell you that we have exams in the morning”. I appreciated the Principal mentioning this to me on Monday morning. Her chance meeting with one of the core organizers from the corporate team on a local train resulted in the postponement of the morning session to afternoon. The session on Hand washing techniques and Hygiene was conducted by the volunteers later in the afternoon that day. Here’s what the Lifesaver volunteer has to say:

“Got a good feedback from Headmistress saying children are washing hands with soap before lunch and after they come from toilet. It’s really a positive sign… Everyone remembers “No Good” who is villain and no one likes germs. Everyone wants to keep away “No Good”. Almost all of the kids knows when and how to wash the hands with Soap. They got the enrollment card signed from family and friends..” Hope all the kids follow forever and be role model for others in their community…in keeping oneself clean and healthy… IMG_3740

However that could not be the case with the two other schools where sessions had been planned for the first half of the day. Three sessions had been conducted so far with minimum hitches in terms of venue, time and support from the school authorities. But then that Monday morning had something else in store for us!

One of our representatives from iVolunteer reached a school on time and found that the exams were due to start in half an hour’s time. A volunteer group arrived by then and conducted the sessions.

“The session went well and the children responded to the questions. In future we can plan for some activities for the children during the third and fourth session and complete the story telling in the first two sessions” – expressed one of the Life saver volunteers.

The other volunteer group arrived 10 mins before the exam was to start. Hence there was just enough time to distribute the goodies brought for children and collecting up all the collaterals that were kept at the school premises .

The third school asked us to come a week later to conduct the final session. Exams had started and they didn’t want the students to be disturbed during the week. (Though I contacted the Principal on Friday for firming the session timings I didn’t receive the communication about the exams beginning on session date itself. He also conveyed that many companies had been approaching the school which causes a dent in the teaching hours.)

The entire episode reminded me of the trainer’s words in our GYAN training sessions on ‘Project Planning’ – Plans are meant to change and so you can use post-it notes for writing them. When a program runs successfully it is easy to work as everything falls in the right place as planned. However when things move slightly in wrong direction it is an opportunity to learn about alternative planning and not losing focus in times of stress. Hope to carry this learning forward.

GYAN- Crowd funding for non-profits

I recently conducted a GYAN session on crowd funding for non-profits in Dehradoon where I shared my experiences of raising money through crowd funding for a range of projects. These projects included raising money for a school to raising money for rehabilitation work in Uttarakhand. I shared how one can create a projects on crowd funding websites and how one can then go about raising awareness about the same.

As I sat there answering questions about crowd funding I realised that most of the questions were around communication and not so much about raising money on the internet. I feel NGOs do a fairly good job of raising money and very soon they will figure out how to do it through the internet. My worry is that even after so much capacity building in the field of communications NGOs seems to have very little idea of what to communicate and how to communicate. On top of it the array of tools available also confuses them. Half of the questions that were asked to me were about what is a blog and how to open a blog and what are the benefits of having a blog. And then there is facebook. NGOs are still unsure about how to create a facebook page and whether they need facebook or not.

The other problem is that no one wants to write. Everyone wants to find someone else to do their job. Unless people who work in NGOs start writing themselves and share what is happening in their work the problem of communicating with the wider world is not going to be over in the near future.

I guess the need is to do more and more communications workshops with small NGOs and get their staff and founders used to the idea of writing and sharing. The world has changed tremendously in the last few years and days of sending printed stuff are over. All of us have to create and share and over the internet. That is the only way forward.

 

 

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