Social service provides a good platform for college students to acquire team skills, gain field experience, and even opens up meaningful career avenues.

If colleges are trying to involve students in social service activities through the National Service Scheme and recruitment drives conducted by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), more students are also voluntarily considering ideas such as ‘serve the society' and ‘conserve the environment' with increasing interest, and look at them even as career avenues.

Social networking sites and advertisements online are some forums that are encouraging these ideas. Bhumi, an NGO involved in empowerment of underprivileged children and environmental conservation, has 60 per cent of its volunteers from the student community.

One fourth of its members have joined the organisation viewing its links shared by peers on Facebook (FB). “Social networking sites attracted me more than posters and articles as I was quite active in FB,” says Abdul Khadeer, an engineering student and Bhumi volunteer. “I felt that my weekends were going futile. So I willingly joined Bhumi and, now I spend two hours of my weekend volunteering there.”

Students and NGOs share the opinion that there is greater awareness among the student community on the issues around them which could be a major reason why students feel the need to contribute their part and get involved. “Growth and expansion in the development sector may also be a reason for this increasing interest,” says Balaji Sampath, Founder of AID India. “There is a large number of students who take a year off after their graduation, and join our organisation, while they explore their options in higher studies or careers,” he says.

Besides these students, there are others who join an NGO for fulfilling the partial requirement of their course by securing a 30 to 90-hour experience certificate. But for a majority of them like Akhila Hari, a third-year B. Com student, the experience has brought about a tremendous change after which they have remained associated with the organisation for years, contributing commendably.

Some NGOs such as Bhumi find it more desirable to have volunteers below 30 years, particularly students. “If the volunteers are college students they would have fewer responsibilities and more time. Also, children are found to be more comfortable when akkas and annas teach them,” says Vaishnavi Srinivasan of Bhumi.

But do these students continue their service once they leave college? Abdul says it is possible as he finds other volunteers taking up multiple responsibilities while working. Jayshree Vencatesan of Care Earth observes that these students need not necessarily take up careers in service, but may continue to be part of these activities alongside work. Some of them go on to establish themselves in the area of service. “They develop a passion for service and even if they take up greater responsibilities, the connectivity established does not fade easily,” she says.

Colleges are also encouraging students to participate in outreach programmes, and conduct cultural and inter-collegiate events with charitable causes as themes. Institutes such as the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, are encouraging students to think beyond pay packages and consider socially relevant sectors by offering fee refund to those taking up placements in non-profit entities.

But the traditional NSS initiative, that was launched with the objective of inculcating social welfare thoughts among students, needs better co-operation and support from colleges in implementing their programmes, say NSS co-ordinators, as the colleges focus more on academics.

But many students, participating in service-oriented activities, find this a healthy change from theory-oriented classes and also an exposure to field skills which they find relevant in the job sector. “The experience I had while volunteering has improved my confidence level and given me an opportunity to participate and understand the dynamics of team work,” says Anirudh Venkat, another student volunteer.

But for Abdul, “Student life is the best phase to make friends, and what better way to make friends than in the process of helping others.”