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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.