When Amrita Kaur Vij (29) moved from Kolkata to Bangalore three and half years back, she wasn’t sure what else to do with her time outside of her work. A chartered accountant by profession she decided to give volunteering a try and starting distributing food packets to the homeless once a month as part of the organisation ‘Let’s Spread Love’. And the experience completely changed her life, and helped her make the new city her home.
“I started volunteering regularly and the joy I experienced was unparalleled. I have formed a strong bond with the kids I met during distribution. I have been thinking of going back to Kolkata, but the kids say ‘don’t go’. Volunteering has made me more positive,” she says.
Raag Malhotra (27) who also volunteers with the organisation says seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids makes her want to do it over and over again. “We spend time talking to them post the food distribution. The kids talk about their school and their families. They are so excited to talk to us,” she says adding that volunteering has giving her immense satisfaction. “You become more empathetic. I have more gratitude for all the things in life. It is made me happier,” she states with a smile.
Backed by science
Studies conducted over the years have found many positive effects of volunteering from increased self-esteem and improved satisfaction to lower blood pressure and cardiac risks. A study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University shows that older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year decrease their risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, by 40 per cent. The study, published by the American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Aging journal, suggests that volunteer work may be an effective non-pharmaceutical option to help prevent the condition.
A meta-analysis of 40 studies published in BMC Public Health in 2013 stated that volunteering had favourable effects on depression, life satisfaction and wellbeing. Meta-analysis of five cohort studies found volunteers to be at lower risk of mortality. Another study involving 1504 adults published in BMC Public Health in 2017 examined other-oriented and self-oriented volunteering in cumulative contribution to health outcomes (mental and physical health, life satisfaction, social well-being and depression). The study found that both forms of volunteering were significantly related to better health outcomes, except the effect of self-oriented volunteering on depression. Other-oriented volunteering was found to have better health benefits than did self-volunteering. The researchers concluded that volunteering should be promoted by public health, education and policy practitioners as a kind of healthy lifestyle, especially for the social subgroups of elders, ethnic minorities, those with little education, single people, and unemployed people, who generally have poorer health and less participation in volunteering.
For Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine, a consultant orthodontist based in Chennai, helping those who need get food through her project ‘Ayyamittu Unn’ is nothing short of a spiritual experience. Through the project she has placed seven community fridges in Chennai and plans to start many more in the country. “I used to donate food but over time I realised I wanted a medium where people can take food without being embarrassed. The community fridge was the answer. Anyone can donate food and anyone in need can take food from it without hesitation,” she explains.
Within two years of starting the project, she was able to redistribute food worth of lakhs that would have otherwise gone into the bin, and was able to collect more than a tonne worth of toys, books, shoes and clothes that have been channelized to reach the right hands. “Through this project I have met so many amazing people and learnt so much on the way. And when I see people take food with a smile on their face, it really motivates me.”
Helping anyone can be life altering, and Seema Mohanchandran found her calling in helping animals in need. As part of ‘Love, Protect, Rescue’, a Hyderabad-based group, she helps rescue street animals, get them treated and adopted and also work towards sensitizing people towards the cause. The 50-year-old who is today completely dedicated to welfare work believes helping others improves life immeasurably. “It makes you more compassionate and selfless. It improves your patience and makes you more tolerant. More importantly when you put your head on your pillow at night, it helps you sleep so much better,” she signs off.