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Are you an NRI or a person of Indian origin interested in contributing to India? Here are some ways to start volunteering.
By Rakhee Ghelani
The Indian diaspora is estimated to be over 30 million located in all continents of the world, but the connection with their motherland remains strong. The connection with India is not only through the family that remains there, but an emotional bond and a strong sense of community and charity.
The Indian government has acknowledged the importance of the diaspora by establishing the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs that looks at policy issues impacting Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and also seeks to engage the diaspora through annual events like Pravasi Bhartiya Divas to celebrate the contribution of Indians overseas and ensure they remain involved with their homeland.
Ways to give back to India
For those NRIs who want to reconnect with India and contribute, there are several options available; the two most popular ways are through donations and volunteering. Donations can be problematic with red-tape and bureaucracy sometimes hindering the flow of funds or donations in kind. Whilst this issue has been acknowledged by the government (PDF) there is still a long way to go before donations from private individuals is an easy and seamless task in India.
On the other hand volunteering provides an opportunity to exchange and potentially transfer skills NRIs have gained overseas and bring them back to India. This can have significant long-term benefits for the Indian population as the old proverb says; give a person a fish and they eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime. It may also have the added benefit of a sense of reward for the volunteer and the ability to see their tangible contribution, but the benefits will be different for each individual with volunteering being a very personal journey (Read, 5 Tips To Start Volunteering).
Volunteering opportunities for NRIs
There are a few organisations that focus specifically on connecting NRIs with volunteer opportunities in India.
Indicorps is a US based organisation that undertakes grassroots development programs with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and offers a fellowship to NRIs that is quite structured and is aimed at not only resulting in tangible benefits to a community in India, but also to build the leadership skills of the fellow.
Fellowships are for one or two years and include a detailed orientation program and a stipend to cover basic living expenses. Their projects cover a wide range of areas such as assisting artisans to develop processes to receive funding to raising awareness of environmentally sustainable farming practices.
AID India is another US based organisation that was formed by Indian students in the US and has several chapters across universities in the States. They conduct both fundraising and also assist students in finding volunteer opportunities in NGOs to work on development projects with placements of at least three months. These volunteer opportunities are self-funded and the volunteer must be able to speak at least one local Indian language.
There are also many volunteer opportunities focused on India that are not restricted to the NRI population.
The American Indian Foundation, started by former President Bill Clinton, partners with NGOs in India to undertake projects that focus on improving education, livelihood and public health in marginalised communities in India. Their programs include providing access to financing programs for rickshaw drivers to own their vehicle to computer and Internet education programs for both teachers and students. The foundation also has the William J. Clinton Fellowship that is a ten month program in India that pairs young professionals with NGOs in India to work on projects that are replicable, scalable and sustainable. The Fellowship is open to US Citizens or Permanent Residents and Indian Citizens under 34 years of age.
Child Rights and You (Cry) focuses on improving conditions for children in India. Their projects include focussing on grassroots issues such as reducing truancy rates and improving pre-natal health care, as well as linking the impact of macro policies on the rights of children. CRY has several fellowships and volunteer opportunities available and chapters are located around the world including US, UK, Canada, UAE and Australia.
There are also local Indian NGOs that offer volunteer opportunities such as Seva Mandir in Udaipur, Rajasthan who focus on building local institutions and capabilities that can enable self-development. Their work covers a wide spectrum from setting up institutions to enable local villages to participate in their own development to undertaking programs for empowering women and enabling them to take on leadership positions. Seva Mandir has volunteer and internship programs available each year.
These are only a few of the organisations that have volunteer opportunities for NRIs in India. There are a wide variety of NGOs and causes either working in or providing support from overseas to India. The opportunities to get involved are endless and the potential benefits for both yourself and those less fortunate are tangible and within your grasp.