While donating money is relatively easy, it is the gift of time and the self that is most precious and rewarding, says Uzma Ahmed Khan
Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.
Volunteer – Latin for ‘will’. As in doing something out of one’s own free will. Religion encourages it, our society needs it and it just makes you feel good when you can rise above yourself and give something back to your community. Unfortunately, while we give Zakat, khairat and sadqa generously, volunteering with our time and energy is not on the priority list for many of us.
Voluntary work requires time and effort, a personal commitment whereas giving money is comparatively easier. And yet, the desire to help is there –– the 2005 earthquake saw it manifest itself into a gigantic volunteer effort. Does it take a disaster of such a great magnitude to shake us out of our apathy? Are we just plain lazy in otherwise ‘normal’ circumstances? Or could perhaps lack of awareness about how, where and what to do be a better question to ask. Take a look at all the advertisements in the newspapers in Ramazan from institutions requesting Zakat. Nobody requests for volunteers to come and donate their time.
Shireen Naqvi, a corporate trainer who also works at SoL (School of Leadership), feels, “We are so absorbed in managing ourselves; our daily lives and its struggles, that it becomes challenging to take time out for a cause, which means giving something of ourselves. Such activity seems not only less important but acquires less significance when dealing with persistent injustices and insecurities that surround us directly or indirectly. And, yet there are also those who have devoted themselves, their entire lives, to giving. Their fulfilment lies solely in contributing, without any expectation of reward or recognition.
“Pakistan stands third in the world as a philanthropic people. Besides, we are witnessing new beginnings. Big and small, local and multinational corporations are making voluntary service mandatory for their employees. Schools are incorporating community service programmes as part of their curriculum. There is rising awareness about taking charge of community uplift at the grass-root level by action of the civil society.
“Sadly, it is, once again, the employer and/or the schools that have to take yet another step toward people grooming. The spirit of volunteerism, of giving, of being part of a cause larger than life, or as small as to get the maid’s kids educated, must be cultivated from a pre-school age and throughout youth by the parents.
“These are basic human values that a family enjoys sharing and practicing together. It builds stronger and more sincere bonds amongst family members; and when expanded to include institutions, community, town and country, it develops the human character i.e. the quality of fellowship, patience, perseverance, empathy, kindness, compassion and generosity, leading to true inner fulfilment, which itself is the highest reward.”
Could a more organised framework attract more Pakistani citizens to come ahead with the spirit of volunteering? Voluntary work in the West is very organised –– you have to ‘compete’ for a voluntary assignment, there are interviews, waiting lists and what’s more –– you can even get ‘fired’ from a voluntary job. Muniza Iftikhar, who moved to the US fifteen years ago, says, “The experience of volunteering has always been very rewarding for me. The idea was not new to me when I came to the States but it brought new meaning to my life. My first experience was to volunteer at a hospital. To my astonishment, there were people of all ages and different socio-economic status who were so happily involved in doing something they were assigned. It was like an organised department where you had to literally apply to be accepted. I had to clear the health exam, (those who were not immunised were given the shots free of charge), and assigned certain responsibilities. I was also given training for these tasks, so I gained new skills.
“Becoming a volunteer opened many doors for me and helped me adjust to my new country. I gained confidence, learnt social skills, became more independent. My husband had little or no time at that stage, I had no driving license, and didn’t know a soul there. Going to the hospital on a bus everyday in the morning for a four-hour shift gave a purpose to my life; to get up in the morning and meet new people. I felt needed and appreciated. It was wonderful. By the end of the shift I would get a free lunch pass for the cafeteria where I would go and enjoy all kinds of goodies with other volunteers. I delivered flowers to very sick patients, entered data on computers at the dental office, filed their charts, worked at the gift shop and organised merchandise, etc. I also worked with patients who were released from the hospital. My job was to escort them with their belongings to the parking lot. I would tell them jokes and made them smile and in turn they blessed me and showered me with affection which was the best reward of all.”
Looking at another transatlantic life change, Andrea Khan came to Pakistan 18 years ago. She ran a Community Service Programme at the school she worked for. Khan explains, “Volunteering is a gift you give yourself. A few hours dedicated to others without expectation of remuneration can bring joy and fulfilment no amount of money can buy. While I was between jobs last year I volunteered at the BPW (Business and Professional Women) School in Azam Basti.
“Many poor families in that area would not be able to educate their children if not for this school. I taught English to classes three, four, and five with an emphasis on improving their speaking power. The rousing welcome I received each morning as I entered their classroom was befitting of a superstar. These children, many the first in their family to go to school are so eager to learn and so very appreciative of the smallest kindness.They inspired me and filled me with enthusiasm and hope.”
Googling Pakistan and volunteerism on the Internet put me in touch with Bilaal Ahmed, a blend of the East and West. Ahmed is the co-founder of Impak, an organisation that works with select private, public and not-for-profit (NGO) organisations in Pakistan to develop short-term project opportunities. “My involvement with Impak started with a simple mantra: the three E’s:,” he writes.
“Exposure: at an early point in my life I knew that I wanted to do something in Pakistan. Having spent most of my life in the US, I viewed Pakistan as a place that I needed to understand better, beyond news headlines and politics. I immersed myself in issues ranging from brain drain to cultural development, and became exposed to new ideas, different people, and the country’s unique circumstances.
“Experience: the more I learned, the more motivated I became to develop that knowledge through practical experience. After enrolling in a graduate programme in economics, I travelled throughout Pakistan as part of my graduate research. In four months I visited every province and every major city, experiencing the rich diversity and the unique challenges within each. I met amazing people and found the inspiration to do more.
“Empowerment: I joined together with two colleagues with similar experiences and we began to brainstorm on how to give motivated people the opportunity to come to Pakistan and volunteer. We came together to form Impak, where skilled volunteers could work with organisations in Pakistan and foster a life-changing experience. We hoped that by facilitating the opportunity for volunteers, they could build from that experience and, like myself, be empowered to make a bigger difference.”
Talath, who volunteers at a Senior Citizens Home in the US and at a special children’s hospital in Pakistan suggests starting on a small scale, “There isn’t even any need to go anywhere, start from your home, start from basic literacy, teach your masi or her daughter to read and write and let your efforts build up from there.”
As good human beings, we have a responsibility to be kind to those who are less fortunate than us or who have been rejected by society like people in old homes, mental asylums, orphanages, etc. Most of the time these people just need someone to talk to or maybe even just a smile.
In this fast paced life, we need to take out time to volunteer in whatever way we can and wherever possible. Just two hours a week is a reasonable target to start with. We spend money and time on our families but it takes a special effort to reach out to the underprivileged; and although we acquire nothing material in return the satisfaction one gets has no bounds.
Institutions can also play a role by building volunteer programmes. It is clear that most people need direction and focus to get them started and having structured programmes will go a long way in promoting the culture of volunteer work in the country.
However, in the final analysis it’s up to us as individuals to take responsibility towards making efforts in devoting our time and energy to a worthy cause.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
1. Think about your interests. What stirs your passion and inspires you?
2. What are your skills? Do you like working directly with people? Do you want to be where the action is or do you prefer working on your own? Office tasks on computers, filing, etc. are also important and need volunteers. You will be more likely to stick to something which is in line with your personality and skills.
3. Determine the number of hours or days you can spare in a week or month and then look for volunteering options that match that time window.
4. Contact local organisations that may be in need for volunteers. The NGO Resource Centre http://www.ngorc.org.pk has a comprehensive list of NGOs and most of them welcome volunteers.
5. Remember, once you commit yourself to an organisation, you must treat the ‘job’ with the same dedication and responsibility as you would a paid position. Unreliable volunteers are of no use to anyone. — U.A.K.
Hats off to the City Nazim, Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal who has started a mass volunteer programme to help protect the civic infrastructure, which he hopes will be replicated throughout the country. This is a refreshing dose of positivity in the unfortunate ‘whine’ culture that permeates our society. ‘I Own Karachi’ calls upon the citizens to get out of their moaning mode and take ownership of the city.
In the Nazim’s words, “You can be a professional, a student, a teacher, an officer, a CEO, a labourer, a vendor or doing any kind of job, you can become the “city owner”, the only requirement is your spirit to do something in the interest of the city.”
Practically, this is seen at traffic lights in the city where volunteers are helping traffic policemen to manage traffic during Ramazan.
Registrations are done at designated desks at the Civic Centre CDGK office, the town offices, through telephone number 1339, and the CDGK website where the registration forms are available at http://www.karachicity.gov.pk/ and http://www.iownkarachi.com— U.A.K.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Although altruism is the most obvious reason, there are many other benefits. An improved sense of well-being and higher self-esteem may lower certain health risks associated with anxiety and depression. People who volunteer on a regular basis report the following benefits:
• improvement in insomnia
• stronger immune system
• speedier recovery from surgery
For students, volunteer work provides the following opportunities:
• make new friends
• explore career and personal interests
• earn recommendations for future employment or college applicationos
• develop marketable job skills
• build resumes
• uncover hidden skills and talents
• have fun and socialise. — U.A.K.