Concepts and Ideas

On Volunteering . . .

I went to Youth For Seva Chennai chapter’s Volunteer orientation session yesterday. They organize volunteering opportunities in education, environment and healthcare sectors for college students and working professionals in Chennai, and a few cities across India.  

I want to share my thoughts on volunteering. People think volunteering is a selfless activity. I disagree. “Selfless human-being” is a perfect oxymoron – IMO. We are basically selfish and all our actions are driven by our desires or fears. But, I never said being selfish is wrong. It’s just our nature, and it is the reason behind  our innovations and survival.

There are a number of benefits to volunteering. First, Volunteering is an excellent way to achieve satisfaction or get over a difficult situation. Also, you can spend time usefully by helping others. Pay it forward: Good Karma – if you are a believer – will be paid back in some way.

Second, once you involve yourself into a difficult project (like teaching blind students, for example), you’ll learn new skills. You’ll learn how to manage challenging situations/people. You’ll learn how to use new tools/techniques. You’ll learn more about human nature. All this could be useful sometime, somewhere, in your life or work.

Third, volunteering molds you into a leader. You’ll learn how to get things done with minimum resources. You’ll learn how to take initiatives. You’ll learn how to handle opposition. You’ll learn more about yourself and what you are capable of. Who knows, you may discover your passion while volunteering.

Fourth, you’ll meet and connect with diverse set of people with varied interests.  What you notice (while meeting the poorest person, for example), might inspire you to question what you thought were absolute truths or necessities. A little (frank) introspection is not bad.

At the same time, volunteering has its limitations. You need to work without getting paid. You are investing your time and efforts without knowing if you’ll gain anything. Probably, getting exposed to certain projects/people might hurt your feelings or make you cynical!

And then there are other factors: Why is the NGO involved in the activities they are? Why do people/companies fund them? What are the actual motives behind all this social service? What if you are being used to expand the education business or increase the sales of MNCs (for example), indirectly, without your knowledge? Or without the knowledge of the NGOs themselves? Yes it can happen.

Irrespective of such issues, I think everyone stands to gain something through volunteering. Of course NGOs cannot demand things/time from you – that’s why it’s called volunteering. If people leave suddenly, it may jeopardize the entire project. That’s why a minimum commitment period maybe required. Maybe you can start by volunteering for one-time events.

Youth For Seva is under Seva Bharati in Tamil Nadu and they are being mentored by the RSS. I read in “Seva Darisanam”, a quarterly magazine of the RSS (in Tamil), that RSS volunteers were the first to reach the recently collapsed multistory building site in Chennai, and they rescued 10 people struck in the debris before the Govt. rescue team arrived at the scene. I think good acts like these need to be appreciated, irrespective of religious affiliations.

Destination Infinity

Have you volunteered anytime? What has been your experience? Would you want to volunteer in future? Speak out in the comments.


  • KP

    That is an unbiased and very clear post clarifying many doubts that may arise in one’s mind.Volunteering is shram dhan and is nothing but ‘giving’ one’s time and energy for a good cause.I have seen many people whom I know help blind students with commitment and sincerity when they have their own busy schedules.
    When one does voluntary service to the needy,it is without any bias of gender,
    language,religion or region.
    An inspiring post.

  • SG

    Interesting post. Personally, I do not volunteer for anything. But if someone ask for help, I will give 110%. (Even in school, I never raised my hand to answer teacher’s question even though I knew the answer.)

    Same is true with advice. I never give advice unless someone specifically ask for it. Even if my enemy ask me for advice, I will give him the same honest advice I would give to my son or daughter.

  • C. Suresh

    We all are selfish insofar as we only do things that make us feel better. What differentiates one person from another is only the difference in WHAT makes him/her feel better 🙂

  • Jeevan

    I am also interested in volunteering or helping others, but I couldn’t do anything while I am depended on someone indeed. I agree with your thoughts on volunteering and it gives a new perception about it.

    Keep up the excellent job 🙂

  • Amruta Bhave

    Oh I agree completely with the statement ‘self-less human being is an oxymoron’. Whenever we help others, we are doing it for our own reasons: ‘feeling good about ourselves’ being one of the main ones. But our reasons apart, I can personally guarantee that volunteering benefits the volunteers a least as much as its recipients. I have volunteered at a slum and in a red-light area school for more than 3 years, teaching the children English, Maths and life-skills. What I have learnt from my experiences is by much more than the the efforts I have put! And it is not just the feel-good factor, it is the actual knowledge I gained, too.

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