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Why students should volunteer in community service: Importance and benefits

But why? Why indeed. There might be a few among us who, every now and then, look up from our McFries and glance at the misfortunes of the less privileged brethren, and simply shake our heads and move on to the frosty cone. Taking the initiative to get out and do something outside the expected requires going over a significant potential barrier, for many.

Our inner sadhu usually sticks to striving for goals that have a long-term reward. After all, with all the fame associated with the visibly successful – the Ambanis, the Advanis, the Bachchans, and the Dhonis – famous for their achievements as businessmen, (in)famous politicians, evergreen (and omnipresent) actors, and debonair sportsmen, just why would you spend time in an activity that doesn’t pay, or appraise, you. Just how many famous people can you recall with a community service profile? Okay, well sure…Mother Teresa. There you go, now you’ve run out possibilities, haven’t you?

No, but seriously, is it really important to seek out social, or community, work outside your to-dos? Absolutely, and preferably from an early enough age! Perhaps, this is why community service is a requirement in a large number of schools in many developed societies.

For instance, here are some statistics on community service among students. in the USA, student community service is a part of school and university curriculums. In fact, according to a 2010 study from a sample of over 4,000 university students from five countries – USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – participation of the order of 58-79% within their student population, was observed.

Another report – College Students Helping America – compiled by the Corporation for National and Community Service Authors, showed that there were 3.3 million college students involved in volunteering work in 2005, an increasing trend from previous years. Overall, there are 62 million volunteers in America, young and old, which makes about 25% of the population.

Indian schools have not managed to reach the level of urgency that these countries seem to possess, when it comes to student initiatives towards community work, but the situation is happily looking up. Awareness is spreading, slowly and we certainly hope steadily.

Currently, the youth volunteering scenario, in India, thrives as independent volunteering, within the community, and finally in more formal settings like corporate foundations, NGOs, faith or charity based organizations, grass root NGOs, social activism, participation in movements and campaigns, online volunteering, etc.

One can even participate in government run programs like the Ministries of Youth Affairs and Sports (NYKS Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, NCC National Cadet Corps etc), Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child Development, Rural Development. But the number is still small. Read our articles on non-profit and NGO careers.

According to a Ministry of Statistics report from 2012, only 1.5% of India’s population is engaged in volunteering activity, inclusive of youth and beyond. The needs are aplenty but community involvement still needs to be worked on. Dilli, and its community service enlightenment, still bahut bahut dur hain!

Why is student volunteering important? What are the benefits

Okay, there is no doubt that there is always a growing need for individuals who can spend their free-time at a shelter rather than at a mall. But what are the benefits of such a gesture? What does student volunteering do for a collective society? And if you really want to explore the other side of this two-way streetWhat does volunteering do for you? And since students are at the focus of this topic – What does volunteering do for you, as a student?

Impact and benefits of student volunteering on society

Educational institutions are involved in various CBL, or Community Based Learning, opportunities in America. For instance, Campus Compact, a coalition of about 1,100 higher education institutions, is a non-profit founded by Brown, Georgetown, and Stanford, Universities. It works in gathering student engagement towards community service. Over the decades, similar programs have combined their student body force with various community non-profits and social service organizations.

Some of the areas, student volunteer projects concentrate on, are –

  • Caring for animals, conservation, rescue, veterinary medical assistance.
  • Teaching people about healthcare, healthy living.
  • Providing economic development opportunities to a community in need through free consultations and education. Helping local businesses prosper and empowering individuals with the knowledge to establish small businesses.
  • Volunteering to teach and educate a local community, children and adults alike.
  • Creating social awareness and helping underprivileged individuals and families in crisis.
  • Working with community services that build living shelters for the underprivileged, arrange soup kitchens for the homeless, provide assistance to the aged, and more.

A rather logical question, here, can be posed to measure the effectiveness of student engagement in these volunteering projects. Why students? What difference do their contributions make to local community organizations, non-profit, NGO, etc?

Over 92%, of community organizations, in a 2001 study, voted in favour of a continuing flow of student volunteers. They provide an extensive labour pool which considerably influences in sustaining the costs of running these organizations. Also, it has been seen that students who volunteer at an early age are more prone to volunteer in later years.

Thus benefiting, the non-profit sector, an increasing pool of participants in the future. Although students are generally perceived as inexperienced and assigned to tasks teaching younger kids, or participating in fund-raising or recreational services, they are also highly receptive to training, with the capability of handling far more crucial roles in such organizations.

Impact of Student Volunteering on Participating Students

Coming over to the more personal – how does your act of student volunteering influence the self of the selfless you. Is it simply in preparation for the judgement day at the pearly gates or is there more value to be gained from volunteering in your community? Apart from the obvious halo over your head, that is. Let’s list the motivations behind it.

  • Value in the Act: The same study that sampled 4,000 volunteering students across five countries, found a high rate of satisfaction among the youth who volunteered. The act itself brings about a feeling of having given back to the society you belong. Especially if you are passionate about the cause that you are volunteering for. At an age when you are teetering on the line between mature adulthood and playful childhood, an initiative to help others confirms your step towards responsibility. In other words, this level of feel-goodness is unlike, and so much better, than the dopamine shots of seeing 150 Facebook likes on your selfie.
  • Personal & Social Development: It is common to see students volunteering in groups, working as teams and developing strong bonds with other caregivers as well as the care receivers. Witnessing the problems of a community can enhance your emotional intelligence, pull your compassion strings for the less fortunate, and surface your appreciation for your own fortunes. Community volunteering is a grounding experience and for the young, it has the potential to shape the adult individuals they become.
  • Build your profile: According to surveys, college admissions officers identify a student’s volunteer commitment to a cause or an organization as one of the highly valued determinants of a strong application. It is because such an experience goes way beyond its altruistic motivation. Here are the avenues in which a student volunteer experience manifests itself as a prized quality.
    • It sets the stage to develop valuable networks that have the potential to transform into long-term professional collaborations.
    • Working towards a cause, without a visible financial pay-out, indicates commitment and passion.
    • Volunteering experiences also render pre-career opportunities to find your niche.
      In what kind of work environments or areas do you want to work?
      Does healthcare capture your interest more than working in organizations that help in economic development?
      Do you see improvement opportunities within the organization motivating you to pursue a line of education – a finance management course to learn how to distribute funds efficiently, learn how to statistically monitor organization impact, etc.
    • It may also be a functional internship, of sorts, if you can match your volunteer work with your degree subject matter.
    • Gain work-experience to proudly embellish your resume. Recruiters often appreciate the real-world working experience gathered in community service.
    • The skills acquired in volunteer work – team work, experience with the organization structure, time and people management, crisis management, problem-solving, fund raising and management, and most significantly, the expression of leadership qualities – are part of the wanted soft-skills in any employee. Read about Leadership skills , Team Player skills and other Key soft skills of a successful worker.

So, you step up a little and get so much back in return. And what’s better you turn out to be an all-around nice guy for having done so. Perhaps it is time that we take a strong turn towards a better society and give back to it, no strings attached.

Saathi, to fir haath badhaaye?
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Rakhi Acharyya
About Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

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