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Volunteer to make a difference (Co-authored by Sarah, Donna and Harriet)

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On December 5th, Godrej Global Volunteering Day, we will dedicate a day across our global offices to volunteer our time with local schools. I hope that you and your teams will whole-heartedly participate in and support this effort.

Even as you gear up for this, do also pause to consider using this opportunity to start your own volunteering journey. Don’t make this a one-off event. If you regularly volunteer, you can vouch for how wonderfully inspiring and even transformative the experience can be. And if you only occasionally support a cause, ask yourself what it would take to make this a longer term commitment, perhaps even a habit. 

Some of us may think that only once we reach a certain age or attain a certain level of wealth, we will start giving back more and making a bigger difference. But it doesn’t have to be so. You don’t need to wait. There isn’t a ‘right time’ for this. Like Hellen Keller said, “The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.”  So, start now. There are so many ways in which you can volunteer your time and skills. And you will be amazed by what you will learn in the process.  

I am very pleased that Sarah Selwood, Donna Rankin and Harriet Walsh, who are part of our Godrej UK team, have written this week’s message on how deeply fulfilling volunteering can be. Over the last few months, they have spent time volunteering at Syrian refugee camps in Greece and are inspiring their friends and colleagues to find ways to contribute as well.

Please read on…

We are colleagues who are bound by our mutual passion for trying to make the world a better place. In October, we visited two refugee camps; Nea Kavala camp and Serres camp in Northern Greece, armed with sports equipment, colouring crayons, stickers and glittery nail varnish. Our aim was to bring a little bit of relief and compassion to families currently suffering the frightening and demoralising experience of life in a temporary settlement. Godrej UK’s new volunteering policy allowed us to take paid time off work to volunteer for this good cause.

10 AMAZING life lessons we learnt 

1. Volunteering can change your outlook on life

We were all deeply moved by our experiences at the camp. Volunteering opened our eyes to the plight of others and put our own lives in perspective. It helped us to realise that fundamentally we are all the same, with the same hopes and fears for our lives and our families, and rather than fearing and placing false assumptions on others, we discovered that more connects us than divides us. 

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2. Every volunteer is important 

Most of the camps we visited were completely run by volunteers. There is very little organised governmental help and the camps are quite disorganised. One individual volunteer can make a big impact. On our first morning all of the volunteers were allocated a different age group to teach a song and dance routine. We learned “Don’t Worry, be Happy” by Bob Marley. The end result was complete chaos, but brilliant fun!

3. The importance of clean water

We spent a couple of days volunteering at a project called ‘Baby Hamman’. Here we had to collect water from a nearby tap, walk back to the tents, warm the water over a makeshift camping stove and then use this to bathe the babies and children. The lack of availability to clean and hygienic water for these refugees made us realise how clean water is actually a luxury to some.      

4. Refugees are desperate to get back to normal lives

We were struck by how proud the refugees were.  Walk into any tent and the few possessions people have are spotlessly clean and tidy. They offer you a drink or food as soon as you sit down. They want to work, and be productive, they feel embarrassed to take handouts and offer you whatever they can by way of thanks for your help. Too often refugees are presented as scroungers or people who somehow are “used to living like this”. It’s simply not true. They are intelligent, hardworking, proud people who are often the innocent victims of other people’s mistakes. 

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5. To be grateful for everything we have

These are people just like us, who are now in an extraordinary situation.  It isn’t until you witness this for yourself, that you fully appreciate how truly lucky and blessed we are.  Bringing a baby into the world is tough at the best of times, even more so when you’ve fled your home country and are relying on donations from strangers.  This is exactly the situation we found when we met Baby Amelia’s family. The good news is that they are hoping to be granted asylum in Germany in March 2017.

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6. The human spirit is remarkably resilient

When we visited the families in their tents, the compassion, warmth and humility shown to us by the refugees was unbelievable, given the situation they find themselves in. It was truly humbling.

7. Your actions, big or small, can have an impact on someone’s life

Just taking time with the children, sitting quietly teaching them English, playing games, colouring, painting nails, dancing and singing, we believe, really brightened their day and ours!

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8. The Happiness Effect of Volunteering

Improving the lives of others less fortunate and truly making a difference, kindles our own happiness.  Studies have found that when you stop thinking about your own problems and focus on someone other than yourself, your stress levels start to decrease.  This is because helping someone else interrupts tension producing patterns and replaces it with a sense of purpose! We certainly are living proof of this theory.

9. Small gestures make a HUGE difference to others 

We asked our fellow Godrejities for donations to take with us; clothes, books, crayons were all kindly donated. When we arrived at the camps it was clear to see that the children had very little to play with, and it was very uplifting to see the delight these small things brought to a child’s face.

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10. It’s important to inspire others to volunteer 

This volunteering experience was born out of a quick chat between us over a cup of tea in our office. Fast forward 2 weeks and we were in the middle of a refugee camp handing out water bottles to 4,000 refugees!  We have since encouraged others to join us and have more volunteering activities in the pipeline.  

Godrej UK’s volunteering scheme enables each of us to take time off to volunteer and support a charity that we are really passionate about and helps us to get a wider perspective of some of the issues in our community and overseas.  It is also an opportunity to do something completely different from your day job, whilst also learning new skills and making a difference.

The Godrej Good & Green philosophy is very close to all of our hearts here in the UK and over the past couple of years we have carried out a number of charity events; climbed Snowdonia raising money for a Children’s Hospice, conquered Ben Nevis for The Alzheimer’s Society, renovated a flat in our local community and organised a tea party for the elderly to name just a few. Currently, we are all packing shoe boxes full of Christmas gifts and toiletries to be distributed to children around the world.

We are really looking forward to the Global Volunteering day on the 5th of December and there is a real buzz of excitement around the office. 

With so much inequality in the world, we here at Godrej UK feel that doing something for others, not only had a positive impact on their lives, but on our lives too. With a positive attitude and a ‘can do’ approach we can all make an impact.

Many thanks to Sarah, Donna and Harriet for sharing this wonderfully inspiring message. I am sure that many of you will also have volunteering experiences of your own. Do write in with them. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Vivek • November 28, 2016


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