Can volunteering shape your career and life?

THE PERSONAL EDGE

With several colleges and workplaces involving their employees and students in social causes, youngsters are channeling their skills into giving back to society and learning to better their social, professional and personal lives, finds out Meera Vijayann.

These days, students and young working professionals everywhere seem to have a similar response when asked if they find time outside their classrooms and workplaces —  ‘I’m busy.

’ To some, it is an attempt to disguise their lack of interest in a real social life, and to others, it is a great excuse to wiggle out of anything without being weighed down by guilt. Yet, there’s a refreshing wave of social activity among youngsters who are trying to break free of this cycle of meaninglessness and use their time to personally grow.

  With several colleges and workplaces involving their employees and students in social causes, youngsters now seem to have a way that channels their skills into ‘giving back to society’ and learning to better their social, professional and personal lives.

The spirit of volunteering

The first question that most students ask is: ‘Why must I volunteer?”  In an incentive-driven world, it is a common notion that there isn’t much time for us to invest our time in activities that won’t lead to monetary gain. Yet, this is a myth.  Volunteering, unlike other activities, allows each one of us to experience being part of our environment, and take part in our society and what a person gains from it, is priceless in terms of learning life skills.

The learning that students often take away, is measured not only in terms of experience, but in terms of personal growth. Madhumitha Madhavan, a student at the George Washington University, admits, “During my undergraduate year at college, I began to get disillusioned. Volunteering for me was, therefore, a good opportunity to explore new things as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Being a volunteer meant that I was not expected to posses the exact skills the organisation needed. It wasn’t like interviewing for a job. So I could gain the skills without committing to the job and figure out what I might want to do when I graduated.”

Maneesh Matthew, another young professional, excitedly charts out on his volunteering experience at CRY.  “When I volunteered, I visited a slum near the Central Station and spent time with children there. These children took up so many responsibilities at such a young age. It was an eye-opening experience to help better their lives.”

The experience, for many like Maneesh, proved priceless in terms of career. Most companies are consciously encouraging their employees to engage with the social sector in a drive to help people shape develop their personal skills and learning deeper values such as gratitude, appreciation and empathy.

Companies and banks such as Hindustan Lever, Barclays, Standard Chartered, Axis, IBM, JP Morgan and Genpact routinely encourage thousands of employees through their CSR initiatives to take part in community projects in a quest to not only help them develop life skills but practically hone their project management and organisation skills as well.

How to volunteer

Several agencies offer both domestic and international opportunities for people of all ages. Organisations such as Go Volunteer India (govolunteerindia.org), IDEX (idex.in) and Volunteer Overseas International (vsoindia.org) are committed to encouraging citizens to take up voluntary work on a term basis.

The easiest way to find a good place to volunteer with is to first identify your interest in a certain area and then, go about finding an organisation that works in that certain field. Old age homes, orphanages and homeless shelters are often open to volunteers helping them without a time constraint. A few NGOs that constantly accept volunteers are:

*Sammaan Foundation
*Goonj
*Smile Foundation
*Pratham
* Foundation
*HelpAge India
*Teach For India
*Amaidi

Looking back, Madhumitha talks of choosing to pursue her interest in social development. “I am studying development, a completely different field from engineering. I am grateful for my engineering degree which gave me certain important skills, but if I hadn’t volunteered, I don’t know what I would have done with my life,” she says.

Maneesh too, admits that volunteering had opened his eyes to an other side of life. “I think the best part of all this was to be able to see a genuine smile on a child’s face. You see, I never wanted to do what I did, but it made me more responsible and I feel it added value to my life.” Certainly, there are many others who echo their thoughts.

However, not everyone feels the need to volunteer with an organisation, but prefer to take a pro-active part in communities, which is another wonderful way for various youth to meet, act and learn from each other. A great example of this would be ‘spot-fixes’ which are undertaken by many civic groups such as The Ugly Indian and Eco Freaks.

Numerous volunteers collaborate on social media to meet routinely to clean up neighbourhoods, public spaces or city streets. When asked if she felt that it was important for all youth to volunteer, Madhumitha reiterates, “I don’t want to say it is crucial for ALL young people to volunteer, since some are more aware of what they want than the others.

However, if you ever feel lost or confused or perhaps like you don’t have a purpose, volunteering is definitely the second best way, after travel, to discover things about yourself. And if you can do both, then there is nothing to beat that!” Perhaps, it’s this that brings to mind John Ruskin’s famous words, “The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it.”

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