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Now, it's your turn to serve

More and more people are taking to volunteering in order to make a difference to society. HEMA VIJAY writes

READY TO LEAD THEM? Your concern matters to them

It's not just about charity. It is about the power of one, the power to make things happen. And it is not just about the power to change things; it is about personally crafting the changes. Cheque philanthropy, even while it is much needed, is no longer seen as the end-all of things. We tend to feel we have done our bit by signing cheques and dropping coins in donation boxes. "But social conscience and the dreams of a better world require that you actually pitch in and help," says Dr. R. Kalyana Krishnan, Professor, IIT Madras. And so Chennai is seeing some high profile volunteers stepping into action.

A small band of people that includes IIT professors, police officers, doctors and businessmen today are contributing their skill to social causes without making much ado about it. They are professionals perpetually hard pressed for time, but still manage to find some for concrete social engineering. Like Professor Kalyana Krishnan. One of the architects behind the National Initiative For The Blind, not many know that he has achieved something even more spectacular. Quite apart from his own contributions, Dr. Krishnan got his students, present and past, to volunteer time to develop and enhance a software that he calls the IITM (IIT Madras) software. It helps the blind, the hearing impaired, the orthopaedically impaired and even spastics to read and learn! "The software is IIT Madras' gift to the nation," says Prof. Krishnan.

Retired DGP C. L. Ramakrishnan and retired IG of Police, N. Krishnaswamy volunteer their time for Vidya Vriksha's digital drive for preserving ancient Indian texts. Former DGP V. Vaikunth, on the other hand, has stepped into an arena he is best equipped to deal with — prisoners' rehabilitation. "It started when I was IG - Prisons and visited the Palayamkottai Central Jail. There I met a young man who was serving a sentence. There are a lot of prisoners who, sometimes, you feel, have been wrongly punished. He was that kind of a man. I helped him continue his education from jail," Vaikunth says. This man, Joseph Paulraj eventually got a PhD in Mathematics and is now employed as a lecturer in the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University.

Roping in the Central Leather Research Institute and the Apparel Training and Design Centre of India, Vaikunth today has trained hundreds of prisoners following it up with placement orders as well. That is not to say that volunteering is the province of a select few. There is also a small band of housewives, retired persons and students who have entered the fray, enriching themselves in the process.

Jambunathan, retired deputy manager, Railway Ministry, finds his day busier today post-retirement than ever before. He lends his language and personality building skills to a number of organisations like the Relief Foundation, the Ability Foundation, the Cholai Foundation and Sri Sankara Matriculation School.

K Geetha, a young mother who has been spending her time in the service of the hearing impaired children at Bala Vidyalaya, elaborates, "I did not need the money a full time job would bring in, at the same time, I wanted to do something that made use of my skills. Volunteering seemed to be the right solution."

So if you hear your conscience nagging you, it might perhaps be a good idea to try volunteering. While volunteering can build up our world to a great degree, it builds up the individual even more. And it is a myth that volunteering doesn't pay. "Volunteering rewards a person with a vision untouched by commercial angles, and also shows a way towards that vision. He ends up feeling that he has made a difference. This makes a world of difference to a person's psyche," says psychologist Vikram Prabhu. A point that young Salma Altaf who has just finished her B.Com. well agrees with. "It has been an amazing and a rewarding experience," she says. Salma has been helping out at Aikya, the school for the mentally challenged besides interacting with juvenile delinquent kids for the Relief Foundation as well.

And if you are unsure about what exactly to do, there are any number of NGOs out in the city waiting for volunteers to chip in. Alternatively, you could contact mediatory agencies such as iVolunteer, an NGO that promotes volunteering for social causes. iVolunteer has been putting people with time and skills in touch with those who need it. "The idea is to bridge the gap between demand and supply and more important to place volunteers in environments they are highly suited for. We are also there to sort out issues that may crop up," says Vidhya V, iVolunteer (28112108). Anybody can volunteer, all that is needed is commitment, Vidhya adds.

Nothing, not even the lack of time need be a constraint. Business analyst Ajinkya, for instance, has been developing the website of the SET educational trust, working overnight at times. He is also about to volunteer his business skills to market products made by the Rajiv Gandhi Home for the Handicapped at Pondicherry.

"NGOs definitely need volunteers to run the show," says J. Kalaichezhiyan, trustee, NGO Service Trust, a mother trust that guides NGOs and funding agencies. Kalaichezhiyan happens to be a banking consultant by profession and works over the weekends and snatched hours in the evenings for the NGO Service Trust, besides helping out at various NGOs like Nethrodaya and The Banyan.

Individual's role

While volunteering is a fashionable thing to do abroad, India is yet to feel its charm. Most of us read about Vivek Oberoi's tsunami relief efforts, but continue to devote holidays to TV shows. Volunteering will become popular when individuals realise that they can and must contribute to society, social analysts say. Volunteering is all about public participation for social change, a concept that has proved successful abroad.

"There are problems in society that can't be solved by the Government alone. And the problems are enormous. Society has to step in and take charge," says Vaikunth. People like him, Prof. Kalyana Krishnan and others have shown that this is possible, even from within the system. So, if you are sick of the world as it exists now, step right in, craft the change. As succinctly phrased in iVolunteer's posters, intentions don't make a difference. Volunteers do.

* * *

Whom to contact

Prof. Kalyana Krishnan: 22578333 (Office) or 24616714 (Residence); Former DGP Vaikunth: 24934466; and Kalaichezian, NGO Service Trust: 94441 16109.

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