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Volunteerism for Sustainable Development

Be the change you wish to see in the world... Mahatma Gandhi

Volunteering is a socio-psychological bridge connecting the self and the individual consciousness to the collective consciousness of the community. On the one hand it is an expression of free will of an individual while on the other it is an expression of a certain set of values imbibed from society values than enable an individual to locate oneself in relation to others. Mahatma Gandhi articulates this identification of self, as "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Volunteering can either be a conscious or sub conscious act. A large number of people subconsciously volunteer in some way or the other almost every day. Such acts of volunteering play an important foundation in the formation and survival of various processes of socio-cultural institutions. The conscious act of volunteering is often defined by socially and culturally evolved values. So when a person helps an elderly lady cross a busy road or feeds the hungry all these acts are defined by a set of socially evolved values.

The need for a sense of belonging also arises from the need for emotional well-being and for a socio-cultural identity. The need also propels people to go beyond the self to reach out to people and nature.

Volunteering has been the part of Indian culture and tradition since time immemorial. In the Hindu ethos it is karma or duty that is to be performed. The law of Karma according to Vedas is the law of cause and effect. One may perform pious activities that will produce good reaction or good karma for future enjoyment.

Mahatma Gandhi brought changes in the concept of volunteer action in India. He added a very significant dimension to the existing philanthropic traditions that was creative, constructive and inclusive volunteerism for human development. He gave special emphasis to the betterment of the down trodden and the excluded. Mahatma Gandhi lay great emphasis on the selfless nature of the service, He writes: voluntary service for others demands the best of which one is capable and must take precedence over service of self. In fact the pure devotee consecrates himself to the service of humanity without any reservation what so ever.

Volunteering is something one does out of one's free will. Gandhi writes that service can have no meaning unless one takes pleasure in it. When it is done for show or fear of public opinion it stunts the man and crushes his spirit. He exhorted the people to take to constructive work for achieving complete independence or poorna swaraj.

Globally in the back drop of increasing conflicts and problems the environment for volunteerism is favorable. According to the report of the UN Secretary General on the follow –up to the implementation of the International year of Volunteers 2001 opportunities for citizens to be engaged through voluntary action at the local level and have their action at the local level recorded and recognized are steadily expanding. Acceptance is spreading for the idea that all people have a right to development and that active participation though volunteerism is one important avenue for exercising that right. New communication techniques make it even more possible to build contacts and support networks among individual volunteers and organizations that involve volunteers on a local, regional and global basis.

The Universal Declaration on Volunteering adopted by the International Association of Volunteer Efforts has articulated a contemporary definition of volunteering. According to this definition volunteering is a fundamental building block of civil society. It brings to life the noblest aspiration of human kind – the pursuit of peace, freedom, opportunity safety and justice for all people. All people in the world should have the right to freely offer their time, talent and energy to others and to their communities. Yet another dimension to the contemporary issues in volunteering is the contribution of Information Technology. The digital media has been able to create new forms of networking and social connectivity. The online volunteering connects require skills to target audience with unique efficiency. Online volunteers undertake a variety of assignments for development organizations such as translations, research, web design, data analysis, database construction, editing articles, online mentoring, publication design and moderating an online discussion group or any other service that can be done through computer network.

Volunteering needs to flourish not only as an additive but also rather as the cementing factor in society to uphold the survival of the mankind. The engine for change has to come from the selflessness and sense of service of the individual volunteer so that the collective consciousness can be aroused to bring the sustainability.

The Gandhian approach to development has to not be reinvented but rather rediscovered where the finiteness of the earth's resources and infiniteness of the giving self is understood. In his approach Mahatma Gandhi urged us to serve the most deprived human being and use this feeling of empathy as our greatest resource to bring the motivation for sustained action.

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