Time for some social service

Time for some social service

Many students complain of boredom during vacations because they have nothing to do. They think of eating places or cinema halls to fill those long empty hours until their schools or colleges reopen. Wouldn’t it be better if they spent the same time in some useful social activity? Vatsala Vedantam provides insights.

Last week I was in a public library in Tuscon. I love libraries in the US. They are friendly places where you can read, browse or simply sit still and watch your surroundings. While indulging in the last named pastime, I noticed  a high school student reading to a seven-year-old boy. She held a big story book with coloured pictures accompanying each tale. Her young audience listened in rapt attention.

They were in a dedicated corner of the library marked “Reading to children.” In another corner marked “Helping with Homework” a high school undergraduate was assisting a middle school student with his home assignments. Watching these two activities, I think of our own high school and college students who complain of boredom during vacations because they have nothing to do. They think of eating places or cinema halls to fill those long empty hours until their schools or colleges reopen. What a sad waste of precious time that cannot be recalled.

I am writing this for all those young people who crave for something to do, but do not know how to find it. Their parents indulge them with money to spend, thinking that will keep them busy. What a colossal waste of resources. Why not save both time and money for some useful activities that will help you as well as others? Our cities in India unfortunately do not boast of lovely libraries like this one. But that need not be a deterrent. Those of you who have the luxury of a room all to yourself at home can collect a few young children in your neighbourhood and simply read to them.

You can either borrow books from a public library, or buy some with your own pocket money. There are any number of lovely illustrated childrens books published in India today. The Childrens’ Book Trust is one of them. Not only will you improve your own language skills by reading and explaining the stories to your listeners, but you will also be doing a great service to them and their parents who are always searching for something to preoccupy the youngsters during vacations.

There are opportunities galore for social service for college undergraduates. You must look out for them. Visiting and spending time with seniors who have chronic disabilities is just one of them. I know someone in my neighbourhood in Bangalore who visits a wheelchair bound person every day at noon just to warm her food and help her to eat since she lives alone. There is no dearth of elderly folks who live alone around you and who would greatly appreciate small services like this.

Assisting them in a myriad ways like going to the bank or doing small shopping chores to make their lives easier — even giving them your company for a couple of hours every day — would be a great and rewarding social service. I met a group of college students in Chennai once who supplied elderly couples living in apartments, with groceries every day. They would take the orders on the telephone at night, and deliver the stuff next morning on the way to college.

In India, the greatest social service open to students of all ages is to teach illiterate people to read and write. Nothing connects you to the world like literacy and numeracy. Our state of Karnataka alone has more than 50 per cent of its women illiterate. The male population fares slightly better. What better social service can college undergraduates embark upon than teaching these persons to read and write? The Government of Karnataka had launched a literacy programme in the 80s called Akshara Sene.

It literally meant battling with illiteracy.  If your college does not have such projects, why not start literacy programmes on your own with a group of like minded friends? Students who have their own vehicles could collect other students and go to any anganwadi in town to reach out to the most disadvantaged groups. If you can spare a couple of hours teaching them to read and write, you would be doing yeoman service.

Don’t you think your time would be better spent this way in useful social service rather than gathering in coffee houses or eateries just to “pass time?”  And remember that every useful activity that you take up will enrich your CV when you apply for higher education or a job.

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