While most Penn students were settling in to another semester of math problems, term papers and study sessions, I was on the other side of the world, nervously fumbling with a piece of chalk as I presented grammar lessons to a group of 10-year-olds.
It was my first day as a volunteer at The Hope Project in New Delhi, India. I had decided to take a semester off from Penn in order to relax and enjoy the activities which I didn’t had time for earlier. I expected to help these children; to change their world for the positive and to make them realize their true potential. I knew it would be challenging and inspiring; but I could never have imagined the lessons that I would learn about the necessity of volunteering globally.
Through my four-month experience at this volunteer organization, I discovered that the main problem non-profits world-over face is a lack of volunteers. People generally prefer to donate money instead of their time. While financial help allows these organizations to stay afloat, it cannot replace the human touch and build the warm connection, which can only come from devoting time.
As college students, many of us do not have the finances to support our favorite causes, but we all have the time. I am urging you all to go out and help.
During my time at The Hope Project, I met volunteers from Germany, Sweden and France. Each shared a surprisingly similar story. Their family and friends back home were pleasantly surprised and often shocked that they chose to volunteer in a developing country. None of us were able to understand the shock that our families and friends expressed. Was it really so unique to help people? Why is volunteering considered an anomaly? Shouldn’t it be as common as devoting one’s time to dance, athletics or music?
The answers to these questions lie in the fact that we often do not prioritize volunteering. But if we start to view it as a vital part of our lives, our attitudes would be very different — and indeed, the world would be very different.
If you can read this, then you have been fortunate enough to receive a quality education. Millions around the world still yearn for that privilege. Illiteracy is perhaps one of the greatest hurdles we must clear on the path to ridding the world of corruption, poverty and discrimination. This reality led me to the New Hope Project in India.
Unfortunately, many students think about devoting time to the causes that inspire them, but ultimately fail to act on those thoughts — either because they lack initiative or information. But Penn has the perfect solution to both of these problems – Civic House and the 43 student groups that run volunteering activities under its umbrella. Civic House, through its groups, oversees innumerable programs in the Greater Philadelphia region and some programs in various parts of the nation as well.
Amanda Schultheis, of Penn’s AmeriCorps VISTA program, said one of the constant endeavors of Civic House is outreach. She explained that outreach helps to inform the students that volunteering is “worth the time and is an important responsibility” and that “it’s a main responsibility.”
College sophomore Alicia Rodriguez understands this sense of personal responsibility intimately. She began spending time with underprivileged children while in high school and continued her volunteering activities while at Penn. She enjoys meeting new people from different walks of life.
Four months ago, I could have applauded Alicia Rodriguez and Amanda Schultheis for their contributions, but I could never have fully appreciated them. My time volunteering in India has changed that. I count those months among the most enjoyable and memorable months of my life.
Moreover, I have become more aware of the world and have started appreciating even the smallest of the things. I learned, among many other things, that volunteering can be an enriching activity. And when you’re cramming for exams, it may seem like time is at a premium. But in the end, it might be worthwhile to take a break from your busy schedule and do something more meaningful.
Kabir Singh Bedi is a rising College junior from India. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.