Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why you must Volunteer.....

We often feel hesitant to take the first step to do something. For some it might be hitting the gym, for others it could be asking a girl out.For years, for me it was getting involved in volunteering and community service. I used to always think i would volunteer and give back to the community, for what was going to stop me. Of course the answer to that was, ME. To be more specific my laziness, my hesitation and my lack of commitment. I always used to put it off and think of it as something that I would so someday, but someday never became a today. This was the case until recently.

Getting a job, and moving to a new city(Washington DC) where I didn't know anybody and most parts of the city, I felt volunteering would be a great opportunity to meet people of DC and understand what defines DC. It was also an opportunity to give back to the community that I would be living, however small that impact might be. While I was aware in general terms that volunteer organizations were involved in the city, I didn't know of any specific organization or how to get involved with them. So in time of requiring information I did what any human being would do. Use Google. And as I had expected there were a ton of websites with a great amount of detail on opportunities. Filtering through them required time, as I wasn’t very sure on what level of commitment I could give, given I didn't have a car back then, and travel was a big hassle. Luckily I was able to find an organization called One Brick( which fitted nicely with my requirements. It allowed people to volunteering but not having to given a fixed commitment. Almost like an ad hoc sort of arrangement. This allowed me to flex my schedule nicely to be part of many of their opportunities.

Despite this, it wasn’t another 2 weeks before I signed up for an event. On signing up my mind was filled with doubts and some of the apprehensions that I had before. Was this is the right thing to do, would I fit in and was I volunteering at a safe place. These questions lingered for the entire week, and were intensified when it was finally time for me to finally go volunteer. I remember reaching the venue and thinking, what am i doing here, can I just go back? But suffice to say, I'm glad I didn't. For all those thoughts disappeared within seconds of actually doing work. We went around cleaning up a fair, moving desks and benches, carrying some heavy stuff. In short it was a lot of work, and if my mom was there to see it she would’ve said that ‘Ashwin finally you’re doing some work’. As the day continued, I couldn't believe that I was actually having second thoughts about this before this. It was an awesome event and by the end of the day I was extremely happy that I got to do something meaningful rather spending my time doing something menial.

I would like to think that event was an instigator in me, over the past year I volunteered in numerous events. But more importantly I got to see parts of the city and its heart that I would never have otherwise. I went to food banks to help organize food deliveries, drove around the city distributing food to poor and needy, and worked at the Smithsonian for their monthly events. It has given me a unique perspective on the city. I will admit to the fact that often I'm hesitant to go to the poor or the less affluent parts of the city and that I'm scared for my safety. Often we look at the affluent areas, the restaurants, and the pubs and think of it as the representation of the city. But that couldn't be further away from truth. Through volunteering it made me realize how trivial our thoughts and wants are. Our desires of higher pay, bigger house or bigger car are trivial when compared to what lot of people in the city go through. There are families out there thinking of how they will pay this month's rent or how they can feed themselves. It makes you thankful of your life but also sad that there is so much help needed.

But sadly volunteering isn't the most natural reaction for most to do. Many want to do it, some do it, but lots don't. For most there isn't an incentive to do it, you don't have the financial rewards of it, you don't get fired for slacking or it’s something that somebody else will do. Also its lot of effort and commitment on your part to do it. And here comes the essence of my point. Lots of live our lives wanting to find some sense of purpose and that we make form of dent in our lives that revolve around us.

Volunteering gives a person the opportunities to reach out to people and communities that you often wouldn’t otherwise. And when you give, give without expecting anything back. Some are appreciative, some aren't. The great thing about volunteering is that it gives you an opportunity to do something that will impact lives of people you will never otherwise see and in ways you can't even imagine. On your journey you meet so many passionate people. Often people like me and you, working, leading busy schedules, having a blackberry, but setting aside so much time of their lives to make other people's lives and communities better. Witnessing people like that gives me encouragement and at the same time a sense of shame that I don't do enough.

You might wonder where we can start. The simplest is to look outside your home. It could be organized group, or it could be an impromptu group that gets together to do a great good. You’ve to get out of your comfort zone and that nice Saturday morning coffee sometimes. There is no lack of opportunities in the city to do volunteer work. If not, you can always resort to our good buddy, Google. Another great place to find opportunities is through Meetup (, where there are tons of activities every day. But the sad reality is that despite the plethora of opportunities there aren't enough people doing it. A person I know recently told me about a lady in Georgetown(DC) who collects gifts for Xmas from various sources and distributes them to low income families throughout the city. But sadly most years she isn't able to distribute all the gifts simply because there aren’t enough people to go do the drop off. I was shocked in a city where we see so many people willing to give and where there is no shortage of cars, that there is a scarcity of volunteers.

I would like to think that this gives an insight to why I think that at the very least everyone should volunteer and how they can make their communities better. It isn't easy,but it shouldn't be. I like to end by giving a quote about what I think captures its essence...

"The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference and that you have lived at all."....


  1. Nice one Captain.... keep up the good work... :)

  2. Dude! I didn't know about this at all! This is great!! Kudos to you!