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Volunteerism

Note: While the content of this post is generic, the primary audience is expected to be Pakistani, as can be inferred from references made to local contexts.

Have you encountered the vicious circle which fresh graduates regularly find themselves in? “You need experience for a job, and you need a job to get some experience.” Here’s the answer to it: volunteer. Volunteerism is, however, much more than just a great resume building prospect – it’s an act of giving up one’s resources, usually time and effort, to willingly help out a cause with no return. In this world of ours where depressing news have become a norm, and more so in the country where we live in, volunteering one’s resources for the sake of helping others is a sure-fire way to keep the faith in a better tomorrow.

Call it community service or humanitarian work, while many would argue that it is a duty to extend a helping hand to others wherever possible, one of the joys of volunteering for a noble cause is the subsequent contentment: making one feel good about themselves, bringing happiness to people’s lives, and engendering positivity in a community.

Helping out in the health sector

Our society is no stranger to messiahs – from Edhi to Ruth Pfau to Dr. Adeeb Rizvi to Ramzan Chhipa – these saviors have been a beacon of hope while our public health sector is in a shambles even after seventy years since independence. A look at the people thronging the Civil Hospital Karachi or the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center can vouch for the fact that resources in a large city like Karachi are woefully inadequate. Situation in remote communities of Sindh and Baluchistan are all the more abysmal.

To be a volunteer in the health sector, you need to assess what your strengths are, and where your skills can be made good use of. An able conversationalist can find a spot at the many institutions catering to the elderly and the disabled, like Maryville, Karwan-e-Hayat and Darul Sukun. Spending time at an old folks’ home, especially at festivals like Eid, Diwali, Nauroze and Christmas is always an engaging idea where the elderly always relive interesting stories of their lives and times. If you are adept at managing children, a pediatric ward of a hospital can use your services. SIUT, for example, has a huge pediatric ward for urology patients where one can help out the staff managing the children. In fact, the Resource Generation and Outreach (RGO) department of SIUT runs a large volunteer program, and one can always find a place to help out the hospital workforce. Large hospitals like the Aga Khan University Hospital and The Kidney Center also run structured volunteer programs, which offers one the opportunity to work in areas as diverse as finance, human resources, IT and marketing. Before one gets carried away with the spirit of helping out, it is essential to be completely aware of the tasks at hand, and know when to reach out for medical staff.

Teach a generation

Alif Ailaan, a local alliance for educational reform, reported in 2015 that there were more than 25 million children out of school in the country (Dawn, April 10, 2015). This alarming figure is compounded by the fact that even among those who know the basic literacy and numeracy skills, quality education is reduced to very few. In the absence of good quality public schools, mushroomed growth of private schools have led to substandard education and a pervasive after-school culture of tuitions.

If you like teaching and are smart at working with children, then volunteering with organizations like The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is a great place. With more than 1400 schools across the country catering to the education of the underserved, TCF works in urban slums and rural communities alike. They offer a number of planned programs where volunteers can get involved with children of variety of ages on different schedules – be it summer vacations, winter holidays or on weekends.

Another initiative, The Bridge School, teaches underprivileged children on the streets. Like its name, the school began with a classroom setting under a bridge where the children had easy access. Over the past few years, the school has focused on teaching girls, and children hailing from minority and under-represented segments of the society. A number of other educational organizations offer opportunities for volunteers, like the Education Center for Special Children, Family Education Services Foundation, INJAZ and The Little Art. Volunteer teachers, who are experts in their fields, as well as focal persons in administration and other affairs can add value to these organizations.

Literature enthusiasts can also indulge themselves by working to upgrade the failing public libraries in the city. Ghalib Library in Nazimabad is an example of disintegrating infrastructure, being poorly equipped with the resources, and can benefit from volunteers. The Liaquat Memorial Library has seen a recent wave of resurgence with the establishment of “Lincoln Corner”, a well maintained space within the library confines that is operated by the U.S. Department of State.

Libraries are a fading aspect in our cities, and in an age where kids operate smartphones and tablets to play games and watch cartoons, new ventures like the Karachi Public Library Project, which aims to create and sustain a public access library that serves as a community space, are a breath of fresh air.

Outdoor fun

For many people, volunteering is more enjoyable outside than in. Blessed with an expansive beach that is polluted as ours, organized beach cleaning activities attract a lot more interest. Organizations like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) arrange a number of outdoor events where one can engage – from their efforts for the protection of mangroves to the wildlife preservation works. Gardening is also a favorite for those with green fingers. The Rotary Club, for example, manages tree plantation activities that are popular with those whose hearts go out to our environment. Endeavors like these are great getaways for those who appreciate dirtying their hands for a healthier atmosphere.

According to an estimate by the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, Karachi generates more than 12,000 metric tons of solid waste in a day. Jam Chakro, also called “kachra kundi”, is a disadvantaged village within the city precincts, and receives more than 100 tons of the garbage that Karachi produces daily. Although some may find this line of work unpalatable, the Thaakat Foundation has made it their mission to work with this community, and have been able to develop and maintain schools for the children who had never before set foot in a classroom.

The willingness to go out and do something for others does not have to be a trademark of good Samaritans only. There are numerous avenues in our country for those who want to do some good, and those mentioned here should get some ideas rolling in your head. A firm resolve and some spare time is all that is needed. While for many people weekends may be an opportunity to get some extra sleep, binge watch shows on Netflix, or catch up with family and friends, working to help out a noble cause does take a few hours but are always worth their while!

The author is an engineer who volunteers for energy and education projects, and can be reached on Twitter at @hassaanidrees.

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1 Comment

Profile Photo by Craig Zelizer

Thanks for your post. Volunteering can be a great way to help others, learn a new skills, make contacts and also help advance one’s career and research shows that service to others can make a huge positive impact not only one one’s well being as well building stronger communities.  It is also important to be aware as well as there are some challenges in volunteering as well as many organizations don’t compensate for work that they possibly should, that not all volunteer opportunities are created equally, etc (there has been a lot of discussion of this in our Social Change Career Helping Line


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