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.
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.