Volunteers are most often people who lead from the front, blaze the trail on ground zero and set the path for others to follow. And the others inevitably do follow, because goodness and giving have a ripple effect like none other. Chennai is no stranger to such phenomena and our citizens are not new to volunteering in times of normalcy and disaster, alike.
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As a volunteer, I have been part of citizenship efforts in times normal and severely abnormal. In terms of the latter, we have volunteered through floods, water scarcity, cyclones and earthquakes. We have rallied thousands of volunteers for hundreds-of-thousands of hours, over almost hundreds of days to reach out to needy people with help. We have cooked, served and sent thousands of hot meals to the hungry, sent lakhs of survival kits to the helpless and those rendered homeless, across boundaries. After all, that is what volunteers do, right?
But, what if you’re a volunteer caught in a situation where you can’t step out? When you know the situation is grim and demands volunteers, but you can’t be there on the field. This is the situation a lot of us find ourselves in today, given the nature of the pandemic Covid 19 we are facing. We are ready, want to help, are sincere and committed, yet are facing a new challenge – to serve, reach out and impact the needy, without being physically present.
In the volunteering world, this is called ‘Virtual Volunteering.” With technology at hand, mobile service, and WhatsApp being our strong ally, we can volunteer effectively yet virtually! In a normal scenario, this would seem absurd and farfetched but in the present situation, this is the norm and we need to adapt to it. In fact, many of us feel that the present quarantine has made us more efficient and innovative.
While most of us work from the confines of our home through the lockdown period till April 14th, not too many of us have used technology to volunteer with those who do not have the luxuries as we do or are in a shelter. It is possible for most of us to take out some time in a week to reach out to them online.
There are some volunteers who are doing so:
- Dr. Anita Suryanarayan is Vice President Operations (South India and Sri Lanka) at Metropolis Health Care in Chennai. As a health worker, she is at her office all day. Yet she volunteers her afternoons on online virtual sessions with the staff and caregivers at NGOs to help allay their fears about the virus and educate them on best practices that should be followed. She finds it immensely fulfilling when they ask her doubts
- Sonali Shah is an entrepreneur and an active volunteer who usually teaches Conversational English through sessions at various schools. These days, she is developing content for the coming year by creating new stories, worksheets, and charts. She is also going to start engaging with some children at an NGO to tell them a story or teach them an action song, online.
Here are some volunteering opportunities that await you if you are a computer-savvy kindred soul, with time on hand:
- Create content for a new/updated website for an NGO, create their newsletter and maybe even their annual report.
- If you are a medico, use your skills to volunteer online through awareness sessions on Covid 19 and steps that can be taken to help protect the beneficiaries from it.
- If you are an accountant, help online with accounting consultancy with NGOs to help close accounts for the financial year. You could offer probono help if you were a lawyer, medical professional, business expert too.
- Volunteer within your home by creating educational content (in modules) for Chennai Volunteer school sessions in the coming academic year, specifically in Conversational English and Computer Science.
- Record an audiobook for visually challenged college students so they can study well.
- Volunteer as a remote volunteer for a helpline that takes incoming calls from needy elders who need help from an NGO during the present lockdown.
- If you are a psychiatrist or a mature volunteer, help by reaching out to homebound people who need counselling over the phone.
- Be a good samaritan and reach out to the elders who live alone in your locality and help them by means of a call to cheer them up, sending a hot meal or getting them medicines.
- If you can help by sponsoring some material relief, reach out to an NGO that is working for it and help out to whatever extent you can. Every drop counts!
- If you are good at communicating, volunteer an online storytelling and singing session with a home for young children who are confined in a small space, with no school, no visitors and no recreation.
- Create charts and other handmade educational material to be displayed in the classrooms of corporation school children in the next academic year.
- Help an NGO create their presence on social media, by way of a defined project.
- Translate a document as per the need of an NGO.
- Edit or write proposals, newspaper articles, newsletters for an NGO. The coming year will be a challenging one for all NGOs to raise funds.
- Help an NGO in its research and analysis.
- Teach yoga and pranayama online to elders in a home, every morning.
These are just some virtual or remote volunteering options that we can start with today, many more options can definitely open up.
So, is this the silver lining in our dark cloud?
Is this the start of a new era in volunteering that will make our presence stronger and more robust? Can we all include volunteering into our (social media) trending 21 days new hobby challenge?
Are we seeing this appear as a dominant part of our volunteering landscape?
Maybe so and maybe it is for the best. Trying times are a cosmic filter for what will pass the test of time and will remain as a vital part of our lives. And since volunteering has been intrinsic since our grandparents’ time, it will only emerge stronger, in alternative forms with changing time and we need to adapt to it, voluntarily.