Volunteering For The Soul

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“There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” 

John Holmes

A Decade of Change 

Through the years, United Way Chennai has turned itself synonymous with direct impact, ground-level interventions, and lasting measures to sustain it. However, these are mere by-products that have emerged from our undivided focus on creating united change as a community of passionate individuals. The past decade has seen UWC witness first-hand the ripple effects of its efforts, through our team members and partners but most importantly, through our volunteers. 

Watching our volunteers grow from picking up distribution boxes to spearheading the implementation of our programs, the responsibility and urge to contribute to this cause has shined through and through. While UWC holds credit for the training and allocation of volunteers for each program, the motivation to efficiently drive concrete change has been the sole doing of volunteers themselves. 

Volunteers Unite

Volunteers at UWC float in from varied walks of life. Currently, UWC’s active volunteering strength is over 340, with an inflow of around 2,300 individual volunteers who have participated in our programs until now. These 340 volunteers form two main categories:

Corporate Volunteers

UWC stitches together Corporate CSR programs that involve direct engagement between beneficiaries and employees (from partner organizations). This forms a significant base to exchange cultural and social learnings and perspectives amongst volunteers.

Student Volunteers

UWC provides an open platform for students pursuing or inclined towards social work development to explore realistic options for learning. Through extensive direct impact projects, this community has created space for an organic flow of shared responsibilities 

Volunteers hold the power to choose their degree of involvement along with the skills they desire to contribute to each project. Based on this, UWC’s project managers delegate tasks to each of them. Presently our volunteering (virtual and on-ground) programs include:  

  1. Storytelling videos for children
  2. Audiobook recordings 
  3. Virtual mentoring 
  4. Paper bag making 
  5. Pain-a-thon
  6. Craft-a-thought 
  7. Inclusive paintathon 
  8. Sign Language
  9. Yoga Classes 

The Ingredients of Change

It must be noted that volunteering for social work does not come easy to many. Be it time constraints or motivation, several factors hurdle their way through this process. However, several long-standing volunteers at UWC do have a few skills in common, that have carried them forward through it all. 

Kick-start yourself – Every level of long term work as a volunteer requires you to be a self-starter, it picks you up from bed and keeps you thriving in the harshest of conditions. A questing urge to face challenges settles you in the road ahead.

Viji stands by her volunteering motto which is, 

“You can find yourself in the service of others”. 

She has been volunteering for the past five years mostly involved in community empowerment activities. She has worked with different key populations and is keen on encouraging others to volunteer by saying that if she can make a difference, we can too. 

Drive with a mix of passion – Curious to learn? Determined to connect with reality? Motivated to be the change? The clarity in knowing what you as a volunteer desire to gain from your efforts can form a crystal clear drive to pursue social work. 

As part of the SAHAYA project, corporate volunteers virtually interacted with senior citizens every day who live alone during the lockdown period to provide emotional support and companionship. 

Prabakaran says,

“I connected with the senior citizens and felt as if we already had a great relationship in the first call itself. This being my first experience in volunteering, I believe that we should all take at least baby steps towards giving back to society.” 

Encouragement: The cherry on top – Identifying individual capabilities and strengths in order to grant volunteers a healthy dose of encouragement brings the movement full circle. UWC’s project managers have been trained to accommodate empathy, a keen eye for values, and motivation in each active volunteer, by stirring in the students/employees’ superpowers to enhance personal growth along with project-oriented goals.

Aparna who volunteered for the paper bag-making project says, 

“It’s a well-known fact that plastic bags cause environmental damage and paper bags are the perfect alternatives to them. I’m happy that I was able to support local street vendors through this project and look forward to volunteering in future projects.”

Gratification via impact – The torch bearer throughout every program continues to be the impact, we as a community create through combined efforts and this must be constantly communicated to volunteers as well. For example – The task at hand may involve organizing and distribution of relief items but the impact that will be created for disaster-struck victims must be written in bold for volunteers. This latches them in and helps them comprehend the value of their endeavors’, a significant aspect that surpasses all else.

Another volunteer says 

“My volunteering experience opened doors to see the world from a different perspective and I never expected to understand the pain and sorrow of a stranger. I enjoy being able to get connected with them at this level and I eagerly look forward to more volunteering work.”

Extensively researched benefits of volunteering come to life through each smile, sweat, and exclamation in volunteers during every activity. At UWC, Volunteers have led the path towards the translation of small changes into massive transformations on a community level. The reverberations of this go on to bloom across Tamil Nadu, wherever a volunteer from UWC has set foot with a motive to be the constant light of change.