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Volunteering virtually

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With the need for volunteers on the rise, here are some options to get the lazy ones started. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN

“I don’t have the time” tops the list of reasons why we don’t volunteer to make a difference, closely followed by “it’s too far” and “I don’t know how I can help”. Now, as long as you have access to the Internet, these excuses are invalid. Here are a few things you can do to appease your conscience and pitch in for the world. All you need is a smart phone/computer, Internet connection, skills and a network of people or just some money in the bank.

Spread the word

Here’s the easiest thing to do: spread the word about an organisation or a cause. Mention organisations in your tweets, Facebook statuses or simply add a badge to your profile picture. 350.org is an organisation that works towards solving the climate crisis. They were in the news recently for their India Beyond Coal campaign. Its website has a number of options for you to pitch in through social network: Join their Facebook page, tag your updates on twitter with “#350ppm”, add a 350 badge to your Twitter profile, subscribe to their YouTube channel and suggest ideas for more videos and upload relevant pictures on their Flickr account. And here’s the most novel virtual volunteering portfolio: our social media team? “We’re currently seeking a few volunteers who can help grow the conversation online a few hours a week — and inspire a global movement,” reads their page! Create your own profile picture badges at http://www.picbadges.com/ or choose from any of the existing ones from their range of categories that also include “Causes”.

Funding

Non-profit organisations are always in need of money to fund their operations or their beneficiaries, so why not spare some money? Many organisations welcome donations through their websites and most have tax exemptions.

Choose to make a donation to any cause or organisation across the world through Global Giving (http://www.globalgiving.org/). The website features projects by topic (animals to technology) and by region. Choose a cause, read up about it and how your money will help and make a donation. You can also make it in the name of a friend who will receive a card via e-mail or post or simply print it out by yourself.

Through World Vision India (http://www.worldvision.in/) you can sponsor a child’s monthly care at Rs. 800 a month. This includes education, food and health-related expenditure. Besides, their “Real Gifts” initiative enables you to surf a number of specific criteria help to set up shop or buying a cow, and donate an amount. You can also see the percentage of their actual requirement that has been met.

Gifting

Best friend’s birthday is coming up and you are wondering what to gift him/her? Here’s a thought: how about a good deed in their name.

Volunteers for Rural India (http://www.vri-online.org.uk) — besides having openings for on-site volunteering work in many rural areas — also lets you buy truly meaningful gifts for your dear ones. For instance, you can buy a pile of bricks that will go towards building classrooms in the village of Jafarpur.

It will come with “an attractive certificate for you to give to your friends and family explaining where their bricks are and what the project will achieve.” Charities Aid Foundation India (http://www.cafindia.org) has Charity Gift Vouchers where you can make donations in the name of your friends or family and gift it to them.

WWF India (http://www.wwfindia.org) has a unique idea. Send a postcard to a forest guard to show them your appreciation of their work! Just click on any of the featured forest guards and send him an e-postcard (a real one if you can walk to the post office to get one) with a message from you. That is sure to bring a smile to his face.

Shopping

Yes, you read it right. “Shopping to save the world” is a dream come true for many. At CRY’s website — http://www.cry.org — you can shop for greeting cards, pen stands, birthday bags, puppets, craft kits and more. While you are at it, you can also click on the link that says “Spread the Word” to send automated e-mails to your friends tell them about CRY. Help Age India (http://www.helpageindia.org) has some cards on sale too in their website.

Shop for Change (http://www.theshopforchange.com/) connects you with “disadvantaged sellers” from across the world and their products on their “online marketplace”.

From Australia, Nepal, India, Kenya, Thailand or Cambodia, you can choose a seller and their products ranging from beads and books to dresses and bags. In India, there are Niranjana Pubic Welfare Trust and Celeste.

I-India works for the betterment of the children living on the streets of Jaipur and has a link where you can buy products like bead neckpieces, bags, key rings and more. The money from the sale goes towards funding their activities.

Skill-sharing

You don’t have to be physically present to actually teach, impart knowledge or put your skills to use. Technology ensures you can do it virtually too. Heard of e-classrooms?

To give you an idea, Helpers of Handicapped (HoH), a Kolhapur-based organisation, ensures that its 500 underprivileged students receive quality education by providing them with online access to teachers based in Kolkata.

You can also indirectly involve yourself by volunteering to help an organisation with creating and managing websites, content creation, material designing, people management, co-ordination, research, marketing, technical assistance, editing/ translating material like grant requests, proposals and much more.

One such website is the United Nations Volunteers’ Online Volunteering service (http://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en/index. html) that helps you match your skills with an organisation from across the world that would require it. Volunteering India (http://www.volunteeringinindia.org/online-volunteering.htm) also helps along these lines. Many websites do have an option to be a virtual volunteer, so keep an eye open for those.

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