Are one day volunteering activities effective?

Sometime back,when I was working with iVolunteer, we took 7 volunteers to spend an afternoon with 25 adolescent girls in a slum in Govandi (with NGO Apnalaya), Mumbai. It was planned as a one day volunteering activity on creating awareness about cleanliness and hygiene. Govandi is the dumping ground of Mumbai and most of the slums are just next to the landfill and that is why we had chosen hygiene as the focus area. Each of the volunteers was paired with 3-4 children and each group had to present a skit on any topic related to cleanliness and hygiene. The event went well; all groups presented; we all had snacks with children and played some games and came back to our normal lives by evening.

are one-day volunteering events effective?
Pooja talking to girls about hygiene during menstrual days

On the way back, one volunteer asked

I had fun, but I wonder if anything that we did today has had any impact?

another raised similar concern by asking

Since this was just a one-day event, how do we make sure that whatever is communicated is actually done by people living in the areas such as Govandi?

Valid questions. In fact I was happy that such concerns were raised. While I did respond to them, I thought it will be good to share it with a wider audience.

During the activity, when we started talking about cleanliness, most of the kids started by saying that it’s dirty everywhere because they live near the dumping ground. That is something they cannot help but only by prodding they started thinking about other factors such as people throwing waste near their neighbour’s house, spitting anywhere, defecating in open even when there were public toilets in the area. For many this was the first time they even gave cleanliness a thought. Of the 25 girls even if 2 start questioning such practices in their community, we have achieved something.

Secondly, the message of cleanliness might even be forgotten by the end of the day; but the more important part was them thinking critically about some issue. Thinking of a problem and then how to resolve it. Never before had these girls spoken in front of any audience. It builds their confidence and next time they would not be so shy.

Another important point of such one-day volunteering events is that it brings girls and boys from underprivileged backgrounds in touch with people like you; people who are almost their age and can influence them positively by simply talking to them and treating them as equals even if it’s just for a few hours. It provides them role models to look up to. And it provides them a day out of their normal life. 🙂

Lastly, these one-day events are many times introduction to volunteering for many first-time volunteers. Their first interaction with beneficiaries and it sort of shows them what to expect when they go into longer-term volunteering. Depending on their experience, many volunteers bring their friends the next time or suggest their friends to go for such one-time events and experience volunteering.

As Liliana González, from Argentina, says

You can’t change the world or a community and make huge impacts in a month, six months, or even a year. It takes a continuous effort, and many people collaborating to accomplish a difference. All we can do is contribute, and work from the heart. Good things always result from that. You must focus on the present, and if you can help just one person, then than that makes a significant difference.

Every little helps.

Have you been part of any one-day volunteering activity? Share your thoughts on their effectiveness (or lack of it) with us. We would love to feature your experiences.

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