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Volunteering for a cause

Parvathi has found much contentment in volunteering for a good cause

SHE WEARS age gracefully and with a purpose. Just looking at her working furiously, makes one rethink the popular image of a woman of today, the go getter, the fierce marketing kinds that we all are so used to seeing in media. Parvathi Jagannath is probably the oldest volunteer member of voluntary organisations such as the UNICEF. She is 65 years old and has been in the `business' of garnering support and donations for social causes since 1986.

She started off with the UNICEF as a volunteer - selling products like cards and calendars for the organisation - and today volunteers for other organisations such as WWF India (Worldwide Fund for Nature) and CRY (Child Relief and You). She has now won the Best Volunteer award almost ten times, receiving it at the hands of successive Governors of Andhra Pradesh.

The beginning

So how did it all start? "My daughter saw an advertisement in the papers back in 1984, in Kolkata (where we used to stay), where UNICEF had asked for volunteers. My children were grown up and into their own professions; I had a lot of time on my hand, and did not want to waste it. I was in my late 40s then. So when I saw this, I thought this was something interesting - it would give me an opportunity to meet new people, and at the same time help the underprivileged, which is what I used to associate these organisations with."

Parvathi came to Hyderabad in 1986, where she continued the work. When Parvathi started off there were other women too, but she was the oldest among them and stayed on the longest. Grit, determination, deep interest and faith in her work has helped her prove that age is no bar for engaging with social work in the way she deemed best.

Her pride and sense of achievement is both childlike and inspiring when she informs you that she has managed to keep the longest association with her clients, among whom are both private and public sector companies. She managed to do the largest sales of cards and that is why she won awards continuously from 1986 to 1997.

Her `peak time' for work is between October and January when it is time for taking orders, seeing to it that they are delivered on time, and that money is collected and sent to the concerned organisations. She says age works well for her, for she is treated with respect. Travelling by auto rickshaws and all that running around, at her age doesn't concern her one bit. Instead she says, "that is an exciting time - I look forward to it." But today the competition has increased ten-fold. There are more people in this vocation and there are many other commercial ventures that indulge in hard sell.

All work

Does that worry her? "No, I have managed to maintain my relationship with my old clients, which is important. I must work hard to convince more people. That is my vocation."

About the competition today she says, "E-cards and commercial greeting cards have affected our business. Our profit also gets affected on account of the increase in postage. Initially lots of Public Sector companies used to buy our cards. Now few software companies are also encouraging us. Government departments are very helpful too. However, where earlier we used to get orders for at least 10 to 15,000 cards from few companies (our old clients) today it has reduced to 1000 and 2000.Yet, we manage to break even."

Parvathi gets a honorarium for the work she does. But it is not the money, which concerns her, she says. "I am a volunteer. If by selling these cards I have helped a child on the streets that is commission enough for me, not pure commerce." Her family supports her in this. "I have three daughters. I have hundred per cent support. My husband helps by taking messages for me."

Relaxing a little in the aftermath of all that season's greetings sales, Parvathi looks forward to another year of great performance, giving her time for good causes, and urging people to do the same.


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