Volunteerism provides a massive amount of energy to drive things forward and make a difference. More than 20 million volunteers make it happen every year around the world. We’ve seen examples in times of disasters when thousands of volunteers have dedicated their time, effort and energy to provide physical aid at the time of our own national calamities — the 2008 earthquake and the 2010 floods.
Volunteerism not only develops the social sentiment of helping others, but also contributes to growth on more personal levels. Many volunteers discover their true potential and inner self along the way.
We at The Express Tribune, have tried to dig deeper. We asked event organisers and development workers how volunteerism really makes a difference.
“One cannot always find work in the fields that they are truly passionate about and by volunteering, one gets to get involved in your favourite causes while at the same time contributing to the advancement of society,” says Umar Farooq, the founder and CEO of Sitara Telecom. Farooq, who has organised various social events and in one of his recent events employed more than 100 volunteers, believes that volunteer work helps one explore different passions while serving a higher purpose. He says that what most volunteers learn from their experiences is the understanding of their own capabilities and the capacity to do hard work. “I have worked with many people who were bored and unsatisfied with their professional lives but through volunteer work they were able to bring passion and commitment to great ideals back to their lives.” Elaborating further, he says that a lot of times, one becomes disgruntled thinking that there is a lot wrong with the society and nobody is doing anything about it. When people volunteer, they meet others who are working for the betterment of the society and are actively engaged in social and political struggles. “Volunteering is an opportunity to make society a better place,” Farooq remarks.
Volunteering for a cause
While much of modern life may seem like a frantic rat race for material gain, volunteerism allows individuals time to pause, catch their breath and renew their inner life. It is a spiritually reviving, morally strengthening and internally rewarding experience. Naziha Syed Ali, one of the organisers at the recently held Jashn-e-Faiz, an event that catered around 30,000 attendees, had intricate management requirements and was brilliantly assisted by volunteers. “Jashn-e-Faiz couldn’t possibly have happened without the scores of volunteers from various educational institutes, who took out the time to come to pre-event meetings and then on the day itself, were the backbone of the proceedings. Jashn-e-Faiz would have been like a patient on a stretcher without them!” says Ali. They performed a gamut of tasks that day, from acting as ushers for seminar attendees to manning the registration desks at the entrance to the venue, she adds.
In an individual’s life, volunteering gives a sense of belonging and inspires a sense of purpose. Most institutions rely heavily on volunteers in organising internal institutional events. Along the way, volunteers discover their key directions. Shahmeer Naveed Arshad, an A-Levels student and member of Model United Nations Society (MUNS) has extensively volunteered in various events and believes volunteering has groomed him as an individual. “I have learnt to both obey and command through the process of volunteering. In my experience of organising events, delegation and the power of working together have always lessened the burden of the most difficult tasks,” says Arshad. Most students work for recognition, self fulfilment and no external benefit. Volunteerism lets you see another part of yourself, as a member of a wider community and as someone who helps in its sustainability.
Umar Salah has been working for a youth organisation called Young Students Welfare Association (YSWA), Khairpur and has undertaken various local projects including International Projects like the HIV/AIDS assigned by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Pakistan. YSWA volunteers have provided their full support from planning the project components to executing them. “I believe that just like it is important for a child’s parent to nourish him and train him about different important things about life, no matter how odd they initially appear to be, it is also important for the civilised and educated class of society to take some initiative regarding training youth about volunteerism. You can see that in civilised societies all over the globe, people organise various volunteer events and nurture the spirit of selfless service in them and the people around, which ultimately benefits the whole society,” Salah explained. The normal conditions here, in our part of the world, are very severe. Moreover, Salah thinks that if proper initiatives are taken to promote volunteerism, it will immensely boost the volunteering spirit and more individuals will be willing to participate.
The YSWA is not working alone in this mission. Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research (PILER) is another organisation that provides massive volunteering opportunities to its members and seekers.
Zeenia Shaukat, Senior Research Associate at PILER says, “PILER believes it is important to have volunteers develop a sense of ownership towards any exercise/activity (it could be an event, a research project, any service delivery work for instance in times of floods). Involving volunteers from the initial stage of an idea/activity encourages a sense of belonging as well as self-initiative. We have seen a great deal of enthusiasm and sense of participation every time we have asked our volunteers to take responsibility for a certain programme. We depend a lot on volunteers, drawn from partner organisations as well as youth keen to work with us.”
Quoting a recent example of volunteers, Shaukat said, in a recent research report, volunteers from flood affectees camps carried out an extensive and very demanding survey of 3,000 families across different camps in Karachi, Hyderabad and Thatta. They went door-to-door, patiently carried out the survey, repeated the exercise when there were errors and dedicatedly worked with us to ensure accurate findings. Similarly, there is hardly any seminar or public activity where we are not supported by volunteers, either from flood affectees camps or the regular youth and individuals willing to work with us.”
Shaukat emphasises that the idea is not only to enhance their learning experience; it is also to develop their interest in the causes that are being espoused. As citizens, we all need to get ourselves involved and committed to issues of human rights, better life, peace, security and civic responsibilities. “These are everybody’s issues and we all need to explore ways of working together for a better society,” concludes Shaukat.
Our career paths may have led us in more mundane directions, but volunteering is a way to make our dreams come true!
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2011.
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