On International Volunteers Day, we celebrate the undaunted spirit of volunteers who have gone far and beyond during these tough times to stand by marginalised children
Puja Marwaha (CEO, CRY – Child Rights and You)
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” Dr Seuss.
This year has introduced our world to one of the toughest challenges we have faced in our lifetimes. The only ‘comfort’ is that we are all in it together – we all are offered with an opportunity to face it collectively. And if we are asked about the silver lining, well, all through the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, kindness has become contagious too – way more than the dreaded virus. We have seen volunteerism to be on a high and so is the spirit of going beyond oneself. In the pursuit of a better world, what can be a bigger ray of hope than this?
My heart fills up with hope when beside the numerous tragic instances caused by the pandemic I do get to find increasing numbers of good deeds by selfless people, even while they continued to battle their own pandemic woes. It seems to my optimistic heart that our world is on the mend, in the right kind of way.
I am also witness to the fact that the common notion of volunteering is an incomplete one. Volunteering is not just an act of giving. It is a process of going through a transformational journey while one goes an extra mile to extend a helping hand to others. From feeling rooted to the community, learning life lessons and skills to improving self-esteem and levels of empathy, volunteers receive invaluable lessons that can be only learnt through great acts of selflessness.
Over 40 years ago, Rippan Kapur, the late founder of Child Rights and You (CRY) realised the power of volunteering, as he started the organization, way back in 1979. He urged every citizen, and especially the young people, to come forward for India’s underprivileged children. Since then, the youth has continued to be the backbone of the organization, taking our vision of a happy and healthy childhood to newer heights every passing day. At CRY, volunteering has always been crucial to our endeavour in reaching out to the community, educating and spreading awareness about children’s rights and issues.
The 3700 strong volunteer base of CRY, supported by 800 interns has been working on several innovative activities during the pandemic. Launching social media awareness programmes, organising crowd-funding campaigns, reaching out to children for online recreational and educational activities, roping in experts to mentor children or conducting online classes, arranging e-learning resources to make digital learning easier for children, are some among the many initiatives that the zealous and determined youngsters have taken up to help children.
Vouching strongly for the mantra ‘be good, do good’ the CRY volunteers have remained undeterred during a crisis like COVID-19. Amid the pandemic, CRY’s large volunteer base, spread across all four regions of India, has helped the organisation create a ripple effect and minimise the challenges faced by India’s underprivileged children and their families during the pandemic.
Besides these activities and events, a team of CRY volunteers felt that it was vital to lend their voices to the voiceless – India’s marginalised children. So they decided to capture the lives of children before and after COVID-19, to highlight how the crisis affected underprivileged children from all four regions of India.
Sultana Razia (name changed to protect identity), a 17-year-old from Ahmedabad, who is in the 12th standard, walking with her friends after school and chatting with them about what she misses the most in the new normal. She also feels bad about not being able to experience the classroom ambience and attend lectures as everything has moved online.
Born and raised in a small room in the ‘red light area’ of Kolkata, 12-year-old Panchalima Saha (name changed to protect identity) lives with her parents and grandmother. The family is under financial crisis since her father, who had a decent earning a year back, lost his job during the pandemic. For the three months of strict lockdown, she has had no other activity other than helping her mother in household chores and revising her previous study material. Panchalima highlighted that accessing online classes was extremely difficult as she has to borrow her father’s older phone which supports minimal internet connection for her education. With the financial crisis in her family, she has not been able to recharge her phone with mobile data and has missed 3-4 days of classes.
For Chhattisgarh’s 14-year-old Shipra (name changed to protect identity), who belongs to a family of agricultural labourers, the lockdown has affected the family in several ways – means of livelihood and their education has been affected the most. Network issues and inability to top-up don’t allow her to learn online. Employment opportunities for her parents who are agricultural labourers have been substantially reduced. She also highlighted there are no doctors available in the village and the closest is about 3 km away while access to medicines is another problem.
From picking up new hobbies; missing school, friends; increased burden of household chores; to awareness about COVID-19 protection protocols; poor/no internet connectivity for online classes; livelihood issues due to loss of jobs/income; and many others; the entire document has ‘children lockdown stories’ galore.
“Talking with children cemented in me the belief that people are just people – we like to tell stories and we like to be heard. Documenting lockdown diaries could not have been a better, more pure project as far as I am concerned,” says Roopkatha Sarkar, a CRY volunteer, who was a part of the project.
Another CRY volunteer from the Lockdown stories project Preneeta said, “It was probably one of the best things that happened to me during this lockdown. I have volunteered with CRY before, but considering the current times, I was really sceptical about the experience, as it was all digital. But my first conversation with the children completely changed my opinion. Despite the paucity of resources at their hands, their enthusiasm was unparalleled and truly infectious. In the process of trying to uncover their ‘lockdown story’, they really did become an indelible part of my story too!”
This is what moves me. Whenever we speak to CRY volunteers, asking about their experience, they always focus on what they receive from the process, and never about what they have to give up. That tells me that we are on the right track with our youngsters.
For me, therefore, the International Volunteers Day is an extra special one this year. Though every year our volunteers keep surprising us with their zeal and innovative thinking, this year they have surpassed themselves. And for me, they have beaten the pandemic in their own special way.