The benefits of volunteerism: It’s more than all work and no pay

All you need is to find a cause that you’re passionate about.

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The Indian community is stirring out of its winter hibernation. With the festive season soon upon us, a plethora of activities will start crowding the community calendar. Our numerous organisations – geographical and linguistic – and the umbrella organisations, are gathering momentum as they work quietly on those Independence Day fairs, the garbas, the Ganesh poojas and the Diwali melas. There’s probably not going to be a free weekend between now and Christmas. No doubt most of these events will be colourful and joyous community gatherings with song, dance and food.

Volunteerism.Indian Link

As you enjoy these functions, do keep in mind the many volunteers who will have put in numerous hours post-work and on weekends away from family, to make sure that these special days and festivities are remembered and celebrated.

Volunteers are a great resource without whom many organisations – certainly community-based ones – would probably not exist. Indeed, the success of many community initiatives can be measured by their ability to attract volunteers in large number. Two such platforms spring to mind immediately, both from Melbourne: the upcoming Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, and Celebrate India’s Victorian Festival of Diwali – both boast of strong and dedicated teams of repeat volunteers.

In Sydney, the Hindu Council of Australia’s Diwali Mela and the health platform Pink Sari are not far behind.

Volunteerism3.Indian Link

On a broader level, volunteerism is on the rise in our society. A Volunteering Australia report suggested recently, that people from diverse backgrounds are highly engaged. “65% of new arrivals to Australia engaged in volunteering within the first 18 months of their arrival. Motivations to volunteer differ (ranging from) to contribute to society, make friends, improve their English or gain local work experience,” said the report.

In our own community, we know a high level of engagement returns later after suffering an intermediary dip. Our doctors, for instance, lead in this regard, volunteering in disadvantaged pockets across the world. For others, Clean up Australia is a popular venture, and many give their time in various forms such as fundraising, or the local cricket or soccer club, or at seniors’ groups and language learning centres.

Volunteerism2.Indian Link

‘Self-worth’ and ‘doing something with my time’ are cited as two of the reasons to volunteer. There are personal and social benefits no doubt, and satisfaction gained from using one’s skills. For older volunteers, there might even be physical and psychological benefits, with some studies suggesting a negative relation to mortality, and cognitive benefits such as reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.

Volunteerism1.Indian Link

For the youth, the benefits have been shown to be even more attractive. While they themselves might list better job prospects, access to adventure etc. as reasons, volunteerism is positively associated with self-esteem, confidence, communication, responsibility, teamwork and innovation. Perhaps most significantly, it has mental health benefits such as keeping depression at bay.

Of course, the concept of volunteering also has its religious antecedents. The earliest discussion of it (as dana, to give) can be seen in the Hindu text Rig Veda. Sikhism has its own version, sewa.

Whether or not you want to follow religious doctrines, volunteerism is here to stay. All you need is to find a cause that you’re passionate about. Go on then, what are you waiting for?