In my many meetings with youth, I realised, there was no dearth of passion to bring about a change. Even anger and frustration sometimes. What was more often than not missing, was the opportunity, platform and guidance to put that passion into action.
As human beings, we’re all structured to help those we see in need. The most pertinent question, therefore, is “how?”. How do we help others?
Based on personal experience and the wisdom from the many organisations I have been part of, here’s a list of 11 points that one must note. These 11 points may not be sufficient, but are in all probability necessary in their entirety to venture into the social spaces.
- Look Out of Your Comfort Zone: To help family and friends comes naturally to us. Whether you do it wilfully or as an obligation even. Helping the people closest to us isn’t the same as being involved in a “social” cause. What’s difficult is to feel the hunger of the child beggar outside your window or the pain of a crying puppy in the street. It is even more difficult to do something about what you see. Our basic instinct, when we see suffering that is not our own, is to ignore it and push it to the furthest corners of our mind. It kind of becomes a self defence mechanism to avoid so much pain. But this is why, social causes are not really social. They help you grow as a person too.
If you look around and see nothing wrong with the world – no suffering, hurt or pain – you need to look further out of your comfort zone.
- Identify Your Cause: Once you step out of your comfort zone, you will realise there is no dearth of issues around you. From children to women to old age to animal abuse; and they can be further bifurcated. Education, depression, empowerment, safety, security etc. It could get daunting, to be honest. But don’t let it bog you down. Identify one cause that you feel the most strongly about. Whether it is educating even a single child or saving a single dog from the streets – you will have make a difference. The primary objective is to begin – and your crusade will get bigger and better as you go.
Once you look around, there will no dearth of issues. Don’t be bogged down and don’t over plan. Start small with a cause you identify with most or that’s immediately doable.
- Know Your “Why”: There could be plethora of reasons why you chose to step out of your comfort zone looking for a social cause: Certificates. Personal experience. The desire to be useful beyond self. Escape from mundane. Experience. Monetary incentive. Bringing about a difference in society. To change what needs to be changed. It is essential to know “why”.
One because that way you know how long you’re in it for. And two, in the long run, it helps keep you unperplexed on the chosen path. The path to social work while very fulfilling is not always easy. It will have roadblocks, like any other work. And just like any other work, it will always help you to have in mind your purpose, your objective, your “why” to keep you going through tougher times.
With a well-defined purpose in mind, it would be easier to go through the tougher times and sail through to the other side.
- What Difference Can I Make: This is different than “what can I do?”. Because there is a lot that you can do and one of the primary deterrent in that path “Will it really make a difference.” Know this: No matter how small an initiative you start with – it will make a difference to that one person, one animal and if nothing else to your own self. And secondly, it will help you grow in experience and it will bring you closer to your cause. You will gain experience to launch your next step.
Working in social spaces not only makes a difference to that one child you taught or one animal you saved, it also makes a difference to your own self with learnings and experience.
- Give without expectations: A lot of people from the social work sector are heard saying that “social service is a very thankless job.” And my answer to them is that it is only thankless if you are expecting that thanks! The second question I get very often, as much from the youth as from the older ones, “What do I get out of it?”. What do you get out of helping the needy and doing your bit to make lives better? Satisfaction. Contentment. Happiness. And a feeling that you made a difference. You made this world a better place to live in.
When you work for a social cause with certain expectations in mind, it is a transaction. Venture into social causes with a sense of giving. It is only thankless when you expect that thanks.
- Detach: This is a personal learning that is essential to survive effectively in social spaces. To detach. There would be too much pain you see around when you go to slum areas or a hospital or an old age home or an orphanage. Too much hurt and sometimes, there would be failure and disappointment when your best planned strategies would fail. There would be times when all your efforts won’t be able to help someone. Once, very initially in my life as a social space worker, I and my team put in two days and the best of resources to save an accidental cow but we couldn’t. Such loss breaks you. It is thus essential to detach.
Understand that you can only perform to the best of your abilities; which you must. The results will not always be in your hands and that’s alright. You’ll lose sometimes. But sometimes you will win. Stay detached and work towards your goals.
- Be patient: Understand, there are people on the other side of the table. These people are going through circumstance that you can only form an informed assumption about. It is one thing to “know” that they live in a slum and totally other to be actually living there with no basics of food, water, sanitation and privacy. They may have been duped earlier by ill intentions of similar NGOs or individuals. They may not be willing to trust you or walk your path.
It takes a lot of patience and understanding to think through things from another person’s perspective and chart out a plan ahead. To gain their trust and have them believe that you mean well. If you snap, nothing changes.
- Be informed: Know your cause. Research. Know the legalities around it. Find loop holes. Figure out who are the people already working on this cause and network with them. The only way to social work is not on-ground volunteering, even though it is the most important. There are other ways like public advocacy, PILs. RTIs that may affect your cause to bring it to a logical conclusion. Exploit them all. And none of it would happen if you don’t know your level playing ground. To guide a campaign, you will need all the information on hand about on-ground work and off-ground work. A word of advice here is that do not depend solely on search engines for your input. Go beyond to government papers, libraries, experts and pioneers in your field of choice.
Social work is not just about volunteering. It is also about legal knowhow and policy matters. It is important to know about your cause as much on paper as on ground.
- Work as a team: “We” can do what “you” and “I” may find it difficult. Choose your cause and find people with a similar disposition to help you with it. There would be different people with different USPs who will bring the various things to the table. While you may be good with strategizing, your friend may be a great photographer who may help you build a social media campaign. Your cousin could write well and others may be expert advice: legal, financial or otherwise, to bring together a whole campaign. Be open to advice, feedback and criticism. In fact, seek it.
Nothing in social spaces is a distinct right or wrong. We experiment; and it is always nice to have as many heads to think about it and as many hands to work on it. Start alone but add the cavalry as you march forth.
- Go out of your way: Stand up for things that matter, when they matter. Not just when it’s convenient or what is convenient. It may not always be convenient to ditch a lunch plan you had planned for a month because an administrative officer called an hour ago to finally meet you to resolve a pertinent issue. When your people believe you and follow you, it is your job to lead and lead effectively. Not every fight will be “convenient” but that makes all the more worth fighting for it. Go out of your way to stand up for those who have trusted you with their lives.
It is not going to be convenient at times. And yet it must be done. If you have to go out of your way to have a certain goal achieved, do it.
- Bring your cause to a logical conclusion: Last, but not the least, the cause you choose must be bought to a logical conclusion to be able to provide respite to the concerned beneficiaries. Whatever your choice of path be – on ground volunteering, Administration interference, legal interference or on the policy level – make sure you see it through.
No matter how much time it takes, how inconvenient it is and how frustrating it gets, the essential goal for venturing into any causes remedy is to see it through to a logical conclusion. And that makes it all worth it.