Empathy and a helping hand extended towards the needy makes a person humane and lovable. We always complain about the world being bad on seeing reports of human abuse or apathy. But But, have we ever thought on how we could make this world a better pace?There are people who have not just thought about it but also acted towards it. There is no need to look far; they are among us and they are in our Mangaluru too. Afshana Khathun, one of the five empathetic souls from India who got selected for training in Sri Lanka on volunteering, speaking to newskarnataka.com shared her thoughts and passion for social work.
Can you share with us about the spark that ignited your passion for volunteering?
Volunteering and helping others makes me happy. Helping the needy, even in simple ways, fulfills the need for social responsibility too. It connects me to the society and makes me aware of the conditions of general public. The passion for volunteering in me is a result of community service which I did during NSS (National Service scheme) camps in my college days. Cleaning and levelling the barren land of a Parish/institution in a remote village of Puttur to make it fit for the sports, construction of toilets, digging and building of sewage pit for the villagers of Pavoor, construction of compound wall at Government School of Jyothinagara, and cleaning of our own Mangala Stadium actually motivated me to engage myself in volunteer activities.
What attracted you to volunteering? What are you doing to sustain your interest?
National Service scheme (NSS) volunteering during my Bachelor's at St. Aloysius College and the related activities, programmes, visit to villages, old age homes, orphanages, annual special camps motivated me to do something for the community or unprivileged sections of the society.
To sustain my interest, I joined the Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK). I am connected with NYK from the past six years but not as an official volunteer. I just volunteered for various activities of NYK. NYK helped me to keep my spirit of volunteering alive. My visit to different youth groups, organising of health camps, blood donations and awareness programmes fulfilled my volunteering desires.
I have a plan to start a blog on volunteering and work on special causes like helping the disabled sections of the society and motivating and promoting the youth who are actually doing something for the community development. Creating awareness on scientific planting of flora to preserve environment is also one of my dream projects.
What are the unusual incidents you have encountered in your volunteering career and what could you learn from them?
Wherever I went with my team or individually, I was not accepted in the field as other volunteers. This actually discouraged me to some extent. I also observed that people expect monetary support from me more than my volunteer work. These small incidents made me realise that volunteerism is just an individual interest. Neither can we make people understand it nor make them a part of it. I have accepted the reality but this can’t hold me back from my work. There are many people who accept me and my work and I will continue doing it.
Is there an ugly side of volunteering, especially for women volunteers?
I have not faced any kind of harassment, physical tortures and I haven't heard of any incidents so far. But yes, I won't say there may not be any.
What are the positives of volunteering?
Yes, there definitely is a positive side to volunteering. I would like to put it in terms of support too. Some youth and their parents donated their own land for the construction of community wells, community buildings, community grounds etc. A lot of students do the manual labour in our projects after school hours and on weekends.
Volunteerism provides a platform to meet people who have done wonders. Knowing their selfless attitude, selfless services and experience motivates and really make us think beyond our limitations to do wonders. It gives us innovative ideas, converge us with the bunch of likeminded people to discuss the smallest of issues; solve smallest of troubles and a massive encouragement to do different and be different.
Which area of volunteer work do you like and why?
I love to act, sing and interact with people. I visited different schools and colleges of Mangalore to create awareness among students regarding water conservation, environment preservation and organised street plays on Aids, Drug abuse and so on. I interacted with school children regarding child abuse making them aware about the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ touch. Interacting with youth creates innovative ways of looking into some issues and invites support from some of them too.
I have never restricted myself to one area. As long as I can contribute to the development of community I work and volunteer.
Where all have you given your services as a volunteer?
I was a volunteer at a state level programmes “Women in the Politics and Governance” and “Importance of Women’s Employment and Empowerment”. My passion led me to start a self- help group comprising young girls and married women with an aim to empower them socially and economically. With the help of Prajna Counselling Centre, I organised awareness programmes on adolescent issues, marriage and family planning, Aids and so on. The GMR Foundation trained us on bag making, candle making, preparation of pickles, charger light making and basic computers for self-employment. I have never restricted myself to one area when it comes to service.
How do you feel after getting selected for training at Sri Lanka, especially as a Mangalurean?
Initially, I was scared and mentally not prepared to travel alone. Applying for leave from my office was another headache. But once it was confirmed that I got selected, I was so happy imagining, visualising my journey and stay in island country Sri Lanka. I was flying for the first time so I was really excited counting my days.
I made up my mind and started preparing for my journey. I also felt that I am so lucky to get selected from Mangaluru also representing my state and country. I was completely aware about the responsibility for which I was selected.
What is your goal professionally?
I want to be an administrator serving the community, especially the Youth. Around 50 percent of the Indian population is in the age group 15 to 35 years with no proper support for their overall development. Being an administrator, I will be heading a department wherein I can utilise the policies for the development of youth as well as the community to their best and maximum level. I want to serve people and provide them with all the facilities that every single one of them deserves.
At present, I am working for the National Youth Corps of Nehru Yuvaka Kendra, an autonomous body under Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt of India. As a youth, I am passionate to know social problems and ground realities. Being a NYC member I visit a number of youth clubs and get to know of their achievements and obstacles.
How is the support from your family for volunteering?
It is good. My family supported me as a NSS volunteer. They allowed me to travel pan India for my activities and gave moral support. My parents never restricted me because I assured them that I will follow what my religion teaches. Because of my family’s support I could do what I want to do.
Sometimes they did raise objections. As a student, studies cannot be neglected. After entire week of attending classes I would not be available on weekends to. Weekends were reserved for volunteer activities. My parents wanted me to finish everything by Saturdays and Sundays and spend time with them.
Can you tell us more about your family?
My father Rasheed Khan is a fisherman who feed all of us with fresh fish. He is a very quiet and supportive father. He allows me to do anything if I am happy doing it. My mother Shameem Banu is a homemaker. She is my real Inspiration. She runs a self-help group and was the president of GMR Mahashakti Okkoota, Thannirubavi. She used to organise awareness programmes for Self Help Group, health camps, women and child health camps, beach cleaning drive and so on.
My Brother Afthab Khan is an ATF Manager at Murgan Oil Corporation and my Sister Afreen Khan is perusing her Bachelor's in Computer Application at St. Aloysius College.
Do you believe you can make a difference being a volunteer?
Yes, I believe that one person can always make a difference. If we do what we are doing with complete dedication and without any expectations, it definitely makes a difference. Each individual has different interests. Having a group of people with same interests will definitely help one achieve the desired goals.
What is your view on woman and woman volunteering?
In our society, the most neglected and highly harassed gender is female. If one girl gets educated, atleast one generation will get educated. Self-help groups play a vital role in women’s empowerment.
Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Trust is earnestly working for the empowerment of women. Many self-help groups were started by the trust. They provide loans for self-employment at lower interest rates. They also provide health insurance to the group member’s family and also market the products produced by these self-help groups.
One woman can help another woman. Women volunteering in the field of women and child development will in future, create healthy mothers and happy families.
We need change makers in the world but how many of us really bother is the question. Giving a person a fish is very easy but teaching a person to fish is difficult though not impossible. Let this one step of Volunteering taken by Afshana Khathun encourage more women volunteers from Mangaluru to build a better, safer, helping and volunteering city.