Volunteering Chennai

Where small is big

File photo used for representational purpose  

In the world of virtual volunteering, small is clearly the big, especially now. The pandemic promotes shorter volunteering commitments — say those lasting 15 to 45 minutes. Durations of this kind encourages more people to sign up for volunteering.

Team Everest’s recent post calling homemakers, retired and working professionals to sign up for the ‘Tell a Story’ initiative received an enthusiastic response for the same reason.

The flexibility that goes with ‘Tell a Story’ is also a factor encouraging volunteering. Interested persons are on a 30-minute phone call every day with a school student (Class III to VIII) for 30 days. In case the volunteer cannot complete the module in this period, a buffer of 12 days is provided. The time can be chosen based on the availability of the volunteer and beneficiary.

‘Speak Out’ and ‘Voice Record a Story’ are a few other open events aimed at improving the spoken English skills of college students and the visually-impaired respectively.

Social organisation Gold Heart Foundation has been running ‘Table Topics’ since the pandemic began where the average volunteering time is 10-15 minutes a day. Here, a college student submits a voice note on a given topic in English and a volunteer offers feedback.

Thuvakkam moved its environment initiatives online by designing programmes where the entire family could participate in. ‘Best out of Waste’, for example, taught children and elders various DIY activities that could be implemented in their surroundings.

Similarly, Talent Quest for India’s ‘Express Phone Mentoring’ requires one to commit 30 minutes every day for 30 days to teach spoken English to children from government schools.

One-on-one format

Those working with non-profits point out that challenges arising from the pandemic are forcing them to target hitherto unreached communities of volunteers.

Volunteering and causes
  • Platforms to check out: Chennai Volunteers, iVolunteer, Goodera
  • Popular causes: Teaching spoken English, becoming a mentor, record an inspirational story, conduct mock interview for final year students, art and craft session

Karthee Vidya, founder, Team Everest, says there are more initiatives than there are volunteers to drive them.

“In pre-COVID days, we had two flagship programmes where volunteers could commit time for a certain duration. Now, we have added 20 more based on the requirement,” says Karthee.

The advantage of virtual volunteering cannot be overemphasised. Most programmes are based on a one-time or short-term engagement in a one-to-one format, giving it an edge over other forms of volunteering.

“Before the pandemic, an average time a volunteer spent for a weekly group activity was two to three hours, sometimes that does not include the time taken to travel to the venue. Now, it is just 30 to 45 minutes,” he says. So naturally, more people are signing up for these virtual volunteering opportunities.

“In 2019, we had 3500 people volunteering and the following year, there was a three-fold increase,” says Karthee, adding that these numbers are from corporate volunteering and the open category. This increase was made possible as a majority of the people were working from home.

Adapting programmes

Ganesh Kumar Sivasubramanian says the success of these virtual programmes depends on how quickly the non-profit adapts to the new situation.

“For Table Topics, our plan was to assign one mentor to three mentees, we dropped it as some of our volunteers were from other countries and different time zones. We switched to the format where one mentor was assigned to one mentee. This was a good decision as we wanted to tap into the enthusiasm of the volunteers from day one,” says Ganesh, a core volunteer with Gold Heart Foundation who works with a corporate.

He says getting more volunteers for an online initiative is good. But commitment is even more valuable than numbers.

Karthee understands that extracting commitment for a long duration might be a challenge, especially from working professionals. He explains: “For instance, ‘Be a Mentor’ is a 13-day programme where the mentor has to spend 15 to 30 minutes to clarify any doubt a mentee may have. Sometimes stretching a programme beyond two weeks will make it difficult for people to make a commitment.”

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 11:35:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/where-small-is-big/article35507046.ece

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