I have had limited experience of volunteer work but those in which I was involved were highly satisfying except one where I had to quit as it was affecting my sanity.
The first exercise that I was involved in was way back in the mid seventies when I was a member of the local Lions Club and we launched a project to provide houses for poor workers with their own plots of land but, on which they could only build huts. I was given the responsibility to provide all the material for one such person who had inherited a small piece of land but did not have the wherewithal to build a house on it. I successfully completed the project by persuading building material suppliers to part with some materials and the recipient managed the labour himself. He is still in touch with me and his grand children now are successful professionals.
The next project that I was involved in was what we call shramdhaan here. It is a composite Sanskrit word containing two parts; shram meaning physical labour and dhaan meaning contribution. It was in the mid nineties after we had moved into our home where we now live. The neighbourhood had a plot of land earmarked for a park but the municipal authorities had not done anything to develop it. The local community association decided to plant a garden there and that is what happened with many residents contributing their labour to clear brush and plant flowering bushes and trees as well as laying down a walking / jogging path. Subsequently, the Municipal Corporation also contributed in various ways and today that park is among the best in Pune.
By the early part of this century, I had retired from business life and was a full time caregiver for my late wife who needed such care. A friend suggested that I become the Honorary Secretary of the local chapter of The Multiple Sclerosis Society Of India which had its office just about a hundred meters across the road from my residence. I did for a year and learnt a great deal about the disease, initiated many programmes for the patients and to raise funds. I also visited many patients to check on the utilisation of funds and other assistance provided to patients and came across instances of great heroism on the side of families of the patients and also the exact opposite of cruelty and neglect. The latter was the most heart breaking to see such human depravity and it finally drove me to quit in disgust. I was simply not able to handle the emotional drainage that such visits caused.
After that experience with MS, one of the local Chambers Of Commerce And Industry, we have quite a few of them, requested me to volunteer to mentor young entrepreneurs who it was funding to set up or expand existing businesses. I was given two mentees in the business that I had some knowledge of and I happily mentored both who, today are very successful businessmen and in regular touch with me. This gave me the greatest satisfaction of all the voluntary work that I have undertaken as, both are from the lowest economic and social strata and to help them navigate the world of banks, businesses, employees etc was simply amazing. If proof is needed that successful businessmen are not necessarily born but, can be made, these two bear that witness.
In the process of mentoring these two young men, I also got first hand experience of the seedy side of our local politics about which, the less said the better.
As my readers know, I have been a serious practitioner of Vipassana Meditation and apart from attending many ten day camps, I had also volunteered my services during camps for others and one such service camp was the most satisfying as I managed a group of totally blind young students who attended one such camp. That experience exposed me to the world of blind people like no amount of reading could have done.
My son and daughter in law are both deeply involved in animal welfare activities and their involvement spills over to my having to do something or the other too. My physical condition does not permit me to be more active though it gives me great satisfaction to see these two so committed and effective.
To sum up, I have had varied experiences but nothing on a life long basis. While I was involved, it was satisfying except towards the end of my stint with MS. I can’t think of getting involved in anything any more.
This is my contribution to this week’s 2 on 1 Friday blog post. Please go over to Shackman’s blog to see what he has to say on the same subject. Thank you.