Volunteering at Aviratha

ALERT!!!

This is a long post. I have been waiting to write this for years.

Disclaimer: Opinions mentioned here are my own and not that of Aviratha.

So?

Let me start at the beginning (I love cliches, but only when I use them. :-P)

I was introduced to Aviratha by a Wipro colleague in 2012. For the first two years, I just made some donation, got notebooks, distributed them to students of two Govt. Lower Primary Schools in my native place, and submitted the report.

And?

That changed with one mid-April message by Mr.Sateesh, President of Aviratha Trust. Aviratha was inviting volunteers interested in conducting sessions in the 10-day computer awareness workshop for Govt. school students near Maddur. The workshop was done in association with Besagarahalli Ramanna Trust. I thought, how hard it would be to teach some basic computer skills to kids, that too for someone like me who developed computer-based K-12 materials in early 2000s itself. Moreover, I was working in the training industry, understanding client needs, developing and reviewing content for the last 10 years. So, there can’t be a better person than me for this task.

I attended a meeting to discuss this initiative further and that is where I got the first glimpse into Aviratha’s unwritten principle, though I didn’t realize back then.

ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಯಾರೂ ಮುಖ್ಯರಲ್ಲ, ಯಾರೂ ಅಮುಖ್ಯರಲ್ಲ. (No one is important here. No one is unimportant)

Kuvempu

Perhaps due to my career in the IT industry and being a newbie to the group, I expected some senior, manager-kind of people to tell me what and how I need to do without much questions.

The meeting was anything but that. Yes, some reference material was available, but we didn’t have to follow it to the T. We were given the option to choose the topic, form a team, define our roles, and the method of teaching. The experienced, Aviratha veterans were willing to discuss pretty much everything, irrespective of whom it came from. For me, that was a revelation. Our team was led by a Aviratha veteran and we chose to teach Microsoft Word. The arrogant Sreekanth was thinking like Rajnikanth.

Jujubee meme

Again, and?

Despite having a very good support system of Aviratha volunteers, I got it all wrong – the teaching method, the student behavior, and my own abilities as an facilitator, or even as a lab assistant. It was embarrassing to realize that sitting in an AC room developing content or evaluating student reaction in a controlled environment and being with students in a real life situation are two different things altogether. I knew I failed miserably. When I mentioned this to some volunteers, they made no fuss of it. Their reaction was more on the lines of “it happens.”

Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a long, fruitful journey with Aviratha. The arrogance of “Jujubee” has now turned into overconfidence of “We will work it out” though.

Ok…but why a long post?

Like any other relationship, I have had my “I am done with” moments with Aviratha as well. Moreover, for me, Aviratha is just a means to an end and not an end itself. But, what has kept me going so far?

First of all, there is nothing called membership in Aviratha. Everyone is a volunteer. And how to become a volunteer? Well, just come and do some work. It can be as simple as loading books to a car or guiding patrons to park their vehicles in the right place. That’s it. No forms. No fees.

As I met other volunteers attending more events of Aviratha, I found that some of us shared common interests like theatre, books, traveling, lots of food, etc., and started meeting them outside Aviratha events. We watched plays, went on trips, discussed and exchanged books, etc. So, that is definitely a factor in hanging around.

Aviratha is quite open. No hierarchy or no bulldozing. Ideas and opinions are welcome from everyone. They can be about a new initiative or process improvement, it is heard and discussed before being accepted or rejected. If it is accepted, the proposer should be willing to own and lead it (not supervise) with adequate support from other volunteers. Aviratha encourages people who can do things not the ones who give gyan. If an idea is rejected, there will be a good reason which may not be known at that time or may not be liked. Aviratha is democratic, but it is not a Pizza to please everyone.
And, it is ok if a good idea fails to take off as long as resources are not wasted. You are reminded about it later, but not blamed. In fact, I have discontinued some of the projects I started for various reasons. Guilty as charged!

There is no preferential treatment to volunteers at any event. If they have to carry a water bottle for someone, dig a trench to plant saplings, or arrange chairs, they just do it. It doesn’t matter whether they are the highest fund raiser or they hold a high position within/ outside Aviratha.

Aviratha discourages any kind of felicitation/ recognition during or for its activities from the beneficiaries. Once I shared some photo of getting a garland in a school and got admonished. Aviratha does not conduct any volunteer or donor recognition events as well. If one thinks that such things motivate better participation, I would disagree. Volunteers should be motivated by the impact they are making, the trust our beneficiaries or partners have in them, and not by the appreciation for their contribution. Honestly, if you don’t get motivated to come back next year by just looking at the smile on the kid’s face as soon as you enter school campus, you don’t belong.

It is always a team effort. Public events like staging a play, organizing a musical concert, screening a movie, etc., attract anywhere between 400-1000 patrons. At least 25-30 volunteers are involved at various stages from planning to packing up for such events. More than 500 volunteers are involved in Notebook drive.

The minimal to zero administrative costs. A good example for that is Notebook drive. Books are stored in volunteers’ garage or a room from where individual leads pick up and distribute to their schools. No matter the distance, the Leads / volunteers have to bear the cost of logistics, food and other expenses incurred for getting books from the designated locations and giving it to students. Another instance where you can see this is, meetings. Aviratha conducts its meetings in no-cost places like a park, steps of a open air auditorium, volunteer’s house, etc. Sometimes it is organized in a venue hired for an Aviratha event and wrapped up before the actual event starts.

Notebook drive, the annual flagship event of Aviratha. Leads raise funds needed for distributing books to the schools they choose. While this might sound weird or even meaningless for some since Aviratha is a charitable organization, I believe this eliminates freeloaders and those who distribute irresponsibly. Aviratha is not chasing numbers here. So there is no pressure on increasing or worry of decreasing number of beneficiaries. Aviratha volunteers hand over the books directly to students. No middlemen involved, not even teachers and other school authorities.

Aviratha sticks to its five domains – Education, Arts, Healthcare, Literature, and Environment, and geography – Karnataka. There is a lot of good work to be done in other areas and Aviratha volunteers, including myself, are involved in some of those, but in individual capacities.

Last but not the least (start with a cliche, end with one), the exposure and experience volunteering opportunities gave me is inexplicable. Learnt and unlearnt many things. Busted many myths. Quite a few memorable experiences. Made friends with some wonderful people.

Well, if I were to believe that 7 years of friendship thing, this will last for a lifetime. Good if it does, “It happens” if it doesn’t.

Phew!

Wait…there is a lot more to be done. Some within the scope of Aviratha, some not. I will find the willingness, time and resources to do them. Someday, sometime, for some. Fingers crossed. For the unfinished ones, there is always a next time.

And one more thing…

Aviratha released souvenir book to mark its 10th anniversary in December 2017. The book provides an insight into Aviratha’s journey. It carries lots of photos, writeups by our well-wishers, and more. It is in Kannada.

You can download it here.

You can also watch a promo video we did for the occasion here.

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