Help! I am not sure I can make a difference!

Q1. Some people known to me are working as volunteers for a social cause. But, I think social problems are too complex and I don’t think I can make any difference, even if I volunteer.

Well!!! You are thinking the same way as many others who were initially hesitant to volunteer and are now active as long-term volunteers. Actually, initiating and experimenting with volunteering activities might give you an answer to this question.

Many individuals hesitate to volunteer due to their preconceived notion that nothing much can be done by an individual to solve social issues. I remember an incident in which a handful of college students saved around 200 trees from being cut for widening the road. This was from a total of about 800 trees that were decided to be cut for road widening. The fate of these200 tress would have been different if those students thought they could do nothing about this situation. Yes, small initiatives can make BIG differences. Always, remember to keep your expectations minimal while initiating volunteering. There is some research which suggests that volunteering may help us in becoming more comfortable in exercising our civic duties, asserting as civic citizens and learning about ways of making a difference.

Q2 I think those who are volunteering don’t have full time responsibilities as an employee/ a student. I don’t think it’s easy to volunteer when I have other roles and responsibilities.

This is a myth. Individuals who are full-time employees/ students also engage in volunteering Researchers has shown that people from different walks of life volunteer. Interactions with short-term and long-term volunteers have revealed that other role-responsibilities can interfere with volunteering activities to varying degrees, but these are generally managed well and do not affect one’s interest for volunteering, Re-working on schedules, reminding oneself about the commitment made, making alternative arrangements for carrying out the tasks, drawing help form family or organization, good time management are some of the strategies used by volunteers to manage their other role-responsibilities and volunteering. Many long-term volunteers report that volunteering has become like a life-style or a habit and hence it didn’t require much effort to balance it along with other role-responsibilities in life.

Q3 How would work as a volunteer affect my own well-being?

Generally, the impact of volunteering on an individual is reported to be positive. Broadly speaking, the effects of volunteering on personal well-being vary according to the individuals, the kind of volunteering activities engaged in and the host-organization through which the individual is engaged in volunteering. An experience of contentment, gaining a sense of purpose in life, increased sense of connectedness to society apart from increased sense of self confidence and interpersonal skills as well as decrease in excessive self- preoccupation are some of the positive impacts of being a regular volunteer that are reported in the research literature. The list can go on. So start thinking seriously about committing a small part of your time on a regular basis for a social cause! Of course, this might require some bit of exploration and experimentation to figure out what kind of volunteering in which kind of an organization/forum (and at what frequency etc.) might be a good fit for you. Everything does not suit everyone and this applies to the field of volunteering too. However, it is a territory worth exploring!


Expert:Dr Jereesh K.Elias is a clinical psychologist trained at NIMHANS,

who went on to do his doctoral work in clinical Psychology on the interface

between formal volunteering and mental health.