Posts Tagged With: volunteering

Being Palanca

This post was first published on Volunteer Weekly – a platform for celebrating volunteerism.

Palanca is an endangered species of the Angolan wildlife but it is more than just that. It’s a national symbol that represents – Peace, Tolerance, Unity, Self-esteem and preservation of biodiversity.

About a year ago, the foundation brought together 10 artists who gave a blank wooden palanca their expression of these values. The exhibition, called ‘Being Palanca’ ( ‘ser Palanca’ in Portuguese), served to raise awareness among the Angolan people about the importance of the values at hand: peace, unity, tolerance and self-esteem, and to the significance of the Palanca as an endangered species and as the national symbol of Angola.

Going through some of the old material, I found files of the “ser Palanca” or “Being Palanca” project and together Ana and I thought of doing this with our kids at the  foundation. We imagined it would be a great way to engage the children towards thinking about these values and give them an expression.

We started the day with a discussion on each of the five values — what it means, is it important and why? can we live with one without the other? The discussion went into talks of how somewhere lack of tolerance for the other is the cause of current conflicts all over the world. The children were also quick to explain by themselves how peace is the blanket under which each of the other values thrives and vice versa — that without unity, tolerance or self-esteem and a respect for our biodiversity, we cannot have peace.

being palanca, teaching values to children, volunteering with children, volunteering in Luanda, volunteering in Angola

I was intrigued by that. All the children were born in peace time but 30 years of civil war meant that each family had stories of loss and tragedy passed on from parents to children and it was clear how they valued peace more than anything.

After the discussions, each child chose one value that they most identified with and started to give expressions to their thoughts on paper. Each value was depicted by a single colour so each painting was only in one colour. In the end we brought them all together to create one big Palanca. The idea was that the density of each colour in the collage will clearly reflect which of the values the children most identified with.

Being Palanca, see palanca, teaching values to children, volunteering with children, volunteering in Luanda, Volunteering in Angola

Does it mean something that most works were on Peace and Unity?

I am Peace. I am Unity.

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Souls Connected by Service

Volunteering in Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand Volunteering, souls connected by service

Souls connected by service

17th October 2013; 7am; kotma, Uttarakhand

Gopal kaka is 88. Joseph ji is 45. One lives in Ahemedabad, the other is a seeker and a wanderer. They have never met. Yet I felt a beautiful link between them. This post is about that.

Almost a year ago, few sadhaks from Ahmedabad went on a journey to Narmada. As they were walking on the road, one girl noticed that Gopal kaka would keep bending down, very frequently. On a closer look she saw he was picking up stones and throwing them on a side. Why?, she asked.

“The stones may hurt someone who steps on them.”

Unbound, unconditional love and selfless service.

About a month back, I started on a journey in Uttarakhand with Joseph ji. Our journey involved long walks and one day I noticed Joseph ji would keep bending down on the way. And I remembered Gopal kaka. But its not possible that Joseph ji is picking up stones. Simply because then he would keep put in one place as after the floods there is no road as such but stone paths. So what is he doing? I went closer and looked. He was picking up earthworms from the road and putting them on the side. Why?, I asked.

“The earthworms may get hurt if someone steps on them”

Unbound, unconditional love and selfless service.

I looked up and wondered at the funny ways God unites all of us. Two people, generations apart, who have never met, yet are connected in spirit 🙂 I have a feeling they will meet in real world soon!

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Paradise on earth?

16th October 2013, 8am, Kotma
Today is my last day in Kotma, so I came out for a longer stroll today morning. I left the hostel saying I will be late today.
We came here on 5th for a one day visit. We had heard about Dr. Tulsidas and how after hearing about the Uttarakhand disaster he decided to dedicate his service in the region, choosing the remotest of villages for his medical camps. It was meant to be just one day stop. But the moment I reached the ashram (or the hostel) he has started here and stared at the mountains from there, I knew this place was special. A kind of a calm came over me despite the long trek to reach the village.
We left the next day back to the hustle and bustle of SNC :). After a few days, I found myself back in Kotma, staring at the mountains. Dr. Tulsidas started me on morning walks from the next day and a 3km down and up trek to and from the river has now become an everyday affair.
The first time I came down to the river and walked to the river, I had a feeling as if I was walking on the surface of some other planet. Boulders of every size – from the biggest to the smallest; rusted rods; parts of a truck; torn tin sheets all laid there. As if human beings once lived here.
Earlier I was told there was a hydro electric power plant on the river. It was hard to believe it looking from top because there was absolutely no trace of it except for a hanging pipeline along the mountain.
power plant
Next day I went further down the river and saw the left over building blocks of what must have been the plant. One day I also went up the mountain and came across the fore bay and signs warning people of the heavy water flow through the bay. I smiled at the irony of the board.
A couple of nights when it rained I could sense the fear and see the haunted look in the eyes of children staying at the ashram. Will they ever be able to see ganga as the calm river that it was known as? Children are scared of stepping into the river that had been their playmate since generations. On the surface life seems to be moving forward, people have found refuge in their faith and moved beyond the blame game. But going a little further deep exposes their wounds and memories.
The images of destruction that I have seen are nothing when I see some pictures that people clicked during the first 3 days. Archana had asked me in the first few days itswlf if i want to see pictures of destruction. And my instant response was no. I was reluctant to see them because what I saw on the ground was itself too much for me to take but eventually while preparing a report I did stumble into that folder. What I saw left my wih goosebumps and sent a shiver down. It been almost 2 weeks since I saw those pictures of floods, damage and of dead bodies yet they keep coming back to haunt me. And if that is my situation, I can not even think of being able to empathise with what the people here must be going through.
In about a week’s time I will be going back from uttarakhand. It will be the end of my volunteering time here in uttarakhand but in spirit I know I am leaving a part of me here. the part that will keep reminding me about my place in this universe, the futility of things we worry about when life has its own plan for us.
And now I feel the river is making me jump from one thing to another and I shall close my phone and just enjoy the sound of it.

Categories: Volunteer | Tags: | 5 Comments

Day1: at Space for Nurturing creativity, Khumera, Guptkashi

21/09/2013 10:30pm
Today morning I woke up and went down to get some hot water… Nandini was there and she asked did we sleep well and how was our day yesterday. I said it was great. And I am looking forward to today. She said only one thing that time “everyday is a new day over here”.
Today was our first full day here in Khumera village (8 kms above Guptkashi). They say the day starts and ends early in the mountains. When we slept at 10pm last night, Archana said it was late. I had thought I will wake up early. I first woke up at 3:15am. Saw the time and slept again and then I woke up only at 6:15! 🙂 Last night it was raining heavily so we had stayed back in school. We went up to Archana’s fathers home (500 mts up the mountain but going up it feels much longer 🙂 ), got our bags and moved permanently in the school.
The morning started with hot water with tulsi leaves. That has replaced my chai! (And pratyush is very happy about that 🙂 ) after that was the safai (cleaning) time. Everyone then cleaned the entire school. They have lunch at 10am here. The food responsibility is distributed amongst the didis for each day. I just helped in that.
Then I did an english story reading session with the children. Archana had bought big fairy tales books from rishikesh and the kids were very excited with the pictures 🙂 so we all sat in a circle and every child would read one sentence and then tell the meaning of the sentence. Its amazing how eager these children are to read. if one got a shorter sentence to read he/she would become very sad… quite contrary to our normal school where, except for few, most would run away from reading.
With the little ones I did some drawing and coloring. And then again went to help in the kitchen. This was the first time I was cooking chapatti on a chulha (firewood stove). At first I was just flattening the dough into rounds and then putting on the tava but later I started cooking them. And I found an all new respect for the girls… on the chulha, the hand that presses on the chapatti gets hot as its right on top of the flame and the legs that are so close to the burning wood below, get hot… and the girls do it twice a day every day all their lives! During the first few months after the floods there was no gas, no electricity anywhere in the villages and chulha was the only means to cook food.
After lunch, the children have classes till 3 pm. During day time the sun had come out and it was the perfect time for us to bring more stuff that we had left in the room they have on top. there were two computers that Archana had bought from Rishikesh and also some Ayurvedic medicines and health supplements that a doctor from Kerela had sent. We got the stuff… Earlier I was holding the packet with both my hands in front and walking down the hill. The girls then said “didi aise to aap thak jaoge, sar pe rakh lo” (didi you will get tired like this, carry the packet on your head). At first I wasn’t sure but then I thought lets just try and it indeed was an easier way to carry load up and down a hill! 🙂 we then fixed the computer and installed their drivers and had it running! I have never had more excitement in setting up a comp 🙂
Later we sat with Archana and her team to listen to their journey and also how best we can serve here. Our idea was that we can always take classes for children and they are excited about new teachers but if they had any organisational challenges that they think we can contribute in.
For most of the evening I was just mesmerised listening to their journey. They also shared about the relief work they have been doing. Walking up the mountains taking 90% risks to their lives just to ensure villages up have food available! Ensuring that everyone was tended to! And while the elder didis were busy in relief work the little children were running their school themselves.. studying at the time of classes and cleaning and cooking! I would have to write another post on SNC itself soon. Tomorrow we are planning to go up in the villages and interact with people there.
At the end I was thinking there is so much I can learn from them! And wondering what can I possibly help them in?
Tomorrow is another day.

Categories: Volunteer | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Rishikesh to Guptkashi

Last night I sat at the banks of river Ganga for about an hour. The ashram closes at 10 pm so I had to get back in time. I just stared into the river waters.. I don’t know if I was silently asking the river to bless our journey which was to start in the morning or was just letting go of any anxiety that I had. I came back very peaceful so I guess She listened.

I finished my packing, washed my clothes and slept around 11.
In the morning, we left the ashram around 6:30. I and Pratyush went to get the computer stuff loaded in the sumo and Archana came in another sumo also loaded with vegetables, blankets and pillows, books and sports equipment for children! Joseph ji got breakfast (Upma) packed from the ashram itself. He told Swami ji that there are 5 people and Swami ji packed so much that it lasted us till lunch!

So all packed, it was around 8 am when we left Rishikesh. Stopped for having breakfast at around 10. We reached Rudraprayag around 1 pm. Till Rudraprayag the road is very good.. its a two lane hill highway and we got no traffic on the way.

After Rudraprayag we could see the destruction. What was till now limited to media pics, became a reality. Roads were washed away… bridges lay half broken with nothing on one end. In the river waters down we could see big big heavy machinery like JCBs lying that had been washed away in the floods… houses that were reduced to rubble or some which had huge cracks all over. The BRO has worked hard to get the road open.. at places you are almost two storey below the level of the actual road.. you come down to the banks and go up. When it happened the first time I almost jumped in my seat.. because I could see the road ahead was broken and our driver going straight towards the broken road with no path ahead in sight 🙂 thereafter it became a regular feature… at many places the dirt road was so small that only one way traffic could go at a time so we had to wait for some time.

Despite all this, we were making good time because there was hardly any traffic. Our driver Surender ji told us normally these roads are full of kedar nath and hemkund sahib pilgrim traffic.
From Rudraprayag, Guptkashi is only 40 kms.. but as the roads are pretty bad it took us almost 3 hours to cover that distance.

We reached Archana’s home at 4pm and were greeted with warm smiles and hot daal chawal! 🙂 and an amazing views of the himalayas.

Later we went down to SNC (space for nurturing creativity) school and the moment we stepped in we were engulfed in the laughter of the children… after a few introductions we all sang songs. Later I helped Archana and other staff in the kitchen while Pratyush was totally engaged in playing with the children. 🙂

Really looking forward to work with Archana and her team and play with the children 🙂

Categories: development, education | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Once a volunteer, always a volunteer!

I was searching for cartoons to share with our volunteers, when I stumbled upon this one.. really described what I felt when I had started volunteering.. 🙂 It was a trap.. I fell into it almost 10 years ago and still haven’t managed to come out  and don’t want to either 🙂 Read my story here.

image taken from: (check out the link for many more interesting cartoon strips)

Categories: development, Volunteer | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

What will you do?

22nd April is Earth Day. I didn’t know about any such day until about a week ago when events about Earth Day celebration started featuring in my news feed. And today my 4 year old niece told me that she is practising for an Earth Day painting competition happening in her school tomorrow. I never celebrated Earth Day in my school or college, so I thought it must be a recent thing (10 years or so) to celebrate Earth. But when I looked it up on the Internet, I was actually impressed to read it’s 42 years old history.

I work towards promoting volunteerism in India and interact with a lot of volunteers on a daily basis. Sometime I’m at a loss when people ask me difficult questions like “How can I as an individual eradicate poverty from the country? If I can’t do much, why should I try?”. But if I think of Earth Day; celebrating Earth would mean celebrating everything we have received from her (it). It’s water day, food day, animal day, climate day, anti-pollution day all rolled into one – giving us unlimited options of celebration. If I don’t run my tap idle, I’m celebrating Earth Day; If I don’t waste paper, I’m celebrating Earth Day; If I water the plants, I’m celebrating Earth Day. It’s so easy :).

And why do we need an Earth Day? Shouldn’t Every Day be Earth Day? We use our planet every day, why not celebrate it every day?

Here is a list of 7 things that I will change/adopt to celebrate Earth every day for 7 days; every week for 4 week; every month for 12 months; every year till I can.

  1. I will put a pot of water for birds to drink on my balcony
  2. I will walk to shorter distance
  3. I will minimise my AC/heater usage. I will increase AC temperature by a degree in summers. (Every degree lower in the winter or higher in the summer you put it is a 10 percent decrease on your energy bill.)
  4. I will run my washing machine on cold temperature
  5. I will switch off all appliances from the mains switch, when not in use.
  6. I will use vegetable leftovers in the kitchen like coriander stems, spinach stems, cucumber & carrot peels, cabbage core etc to make vegetable stock instead of throwing them
  7. I will carry my own reusable bag for shopping

What will you do?

Categories: go green, recycle, Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Journey…

The Lok Mitras

We often wander in search of inspiration and so was our case when we began our journey to Gandhi Ashram. Though there weren’t any expectation, the visit led to some soul searching. It answered some questions we had been struggling with but raised many more.

Over the last two days we met so many inspired people with equally inspiring life stories that it is difficult to write about them all in one post but what we all observed through the stories (or rather the journeys) of those people is the common thread that holds them together. The deep sense of solidarity and the spirit of changing themselves by serving others. A selfish motivation – as described by Nimesh :). Truth, love, joy, compassion, humility, friendship – the Gandhian principles so often forgotten were imbibed by one and all associated with the place. None of the people we met ever talked about changing the world but about changing themselves. “Be the change” is what their kurtas read. They all had at some point of time broke the shackles of their routine life in search for purpose and satisfaction. They had originally come to the ashram for one hour, one day, one project and never left.

Madhusudan came here as a filmmaker with an idea of making a film on manav sadhana for increasing awareness. Little did he know that one interaction with Jayesh bhai and his message of spreading love and greater love would strike such a cord that it has been 7 years since that day and he hasn’t thought of turning back.

The place is a collection of individuals, organisations, groups and ideas working towards one message “Love All Serve All”

Nimesh was running a successful animation firm in Pune when suddenly he realised that while he was successful, he was not content. Today he is enjoying at the ashram engaging with 16 children through the medium of arts and theatre. Madhusudan says he is “mothering” instead of using the word ‘fathering’ the children. Nimesh accepts that he stayed on because he was selfish. He was changing and he liked the change.

Siddhartha and Leher came to the ashram for one day during their journey across India. This was one year ago. Raghu bhai came here because he felt he was becoming a burden on his family due to his disability, but today he is the support of nearly 20 mothers due to his “tyag no tiffin”. He started by sharing his tiffin with an elderly lady and slowly others joined him. Today they fast for one meal every Thursday and the money they save by skipping the one meal is used to provide tiffin to these 20 elderly women.

Rahul an avid photographer strongly believes in the power of images to bring change. He says he is a bit shy in talking to people but he found his purpose when he saw the smile on the kids faces when they get a print of their picture. A lot of us click pictures of kids in slums, in streets or in other public places but how many of us go back and give those pictures to them? Rahul does. He says the families display the pictures on their walls and it is s sense of pride and togetherness for them. He is now working on a project where he would click pictures of at least 100 families and give them the framed photograph.

Like Nilesh bhai, Madhu bhai, Siddharth, Rahul, Leher.. .the place is a buzzing with people moved by love. Deepam aptly says that they stay on because they gain more than what they give.

Everybody I spoke to has a journey I would want to be part of. The place didn’t just inspire, it taught me. Yes, in just two days, it taught the message of humility and gratitude.

To know more about the people and their initiatives go to

Photo credits:

This photo belongs to ‘charityfocus’ on Flickr

Categories: development, Travel, Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volunteers V/s Professionals

“Noah’s Arc was built by Volunteers

The Titanic was built by Professionals”

I read this quote about volunteers sometime back on a website and the next moment I was drawing this cartoon! This is my very first attempt at cartooning and though I took the arc and the animals and the titanic from different places, I really like the end result ; therefore sharing with all.

Categories: development, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From volunteering to volunteering…

I’ve been asked this question again and again. Why did I switch my career from engineering to development? Well I thought I’d better answer that now!

Graduating from IIT, a job in a well-known MNC was an obvious choice. I was designing circuits for various mobile applications. The job was challenging, interesting, I learned a lot but the most important thing, which made me stick to it for 5 years, was the opportunities my company provided towards community development. Before TI, “giving back to society” for me, mainly meant donating money/material. It was only later that I saw how important and how much more difficult (and thus more satisfying) it was to donate my time and my skills. Writing a cheque was easy, but it was easily forgotten as well. TI India Foundation gave me an opportunity to volunteer my time at various NGOs. I was a companion to old people, a teacher to under privileged children or a friend to special kids. Sometimes a fundraiser, sometimes a marketing help for an NGO. It allowed me to take up so many different roles and go beyond my daily routine of being a design engineer. The impact was observable immediately; the satisfaction was delivered just as soon.

But it wasn’t easy being a volunteer every time. It’s different to see poverty from outside and think about doing something about it than to experience it and work within it. I would just like to recount an instance here, which made me question my efforts towards volunteering as well as strengthened them.

I was once trying to convince the parents of a 10-year-old slum girl to allow her to continue school. I gave all the regular arguments of the vicious cycle of poverty and that until she gets good education, there is no way out for her. The father of the child, made his 6 children stand in line in front of me and simply said, if she doesn’t work the rest go hungry.

I was dumbfounded by that response. That time I just left, went to my mentor and cried my heart out. However, she insisted that I go back and try harder. I did and I succeeded and it gave me such pleasure that no other achievement of mine could stand in front of it.

I’ve had my share of disappointments as well, but in this field one success is worth tens of disappointments.

While the desire to contribute more grew, time was limited and that’s what triggered the change. From a part-time volunteer, I became a full time volunteer with save the children and then a full time employee with iVolunteer, where I get to manage and interact with volunteers from different walks of life eager to give their time and skills to change lives. Along with ensuring that their skills are best utilised, I am back to part time volunteering again!

PS: I’m sharing this post for the alternative’s Bucket-a-hope campaign.  Grab your “bucket”, fill it with hope and share your giving story with

Categories: around us, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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