Volunteering: The Gifts of Giving and Receiving

Ever considered stepping out of your comfort zone to take an adventure into the unknown by diving into a community project, volunteering your time, skills, effort? I bet you have. So many people tell me that they want to volunteer, try something new, but they can’t figure out where to start.


Bookworm’s Story with Storybooks

Bookworm, nestled in a village-town in Goa, India, (http://www.bookwormgoa.in) is a non-profit organization that welcomes volunteers from everywhere – if their skills are a fit.  Bookworm’s story is an interesting one – They provide access, and remove barriers, to storybooks and library resources to all children in the communities they serve.

Sujata Noronha, co-founder of the Bookworm Library Goa, India, describes, “We work with storybooks in schools and disadvantaged communities. Our work enables children, irrespective of community or class, to experience storybooks and libraries. We believe,critical thinking as well as creativity comes from reading which enhances the human experience.”


Pursuing Passions

For the most part, Eva Dumitrescu, a Romanian architect, lived where she was born in the small town of Bacua, Romania.  Her passion for architecture and design led her to India and eventually to volunteer her time doing what she loved – an experience, she says, that changed her life.

Now back in Romania, Eva recounts, “My time in India, as a whole, was a wonderful experience. India gave me the gift of rediscovering the art of drawing. I felt strongly about wanting to pursue my dream of doing book illustrations there.  So I pursued opportunities by sending my portfolio to different publishing houses in India.  I was hoping for a placement in a coastal place. And luckily found Bookworm Goa, a small organization, which had a publishing house.  They had a posting on their Facebook page seeking a volunteer illustrator. So I sent them my portfolio and I got a reply the very next day! I was just delighted! And five months later I was in Goa!”


Shadowing and Diving In, By Choice

Bookworm is a small team and everyone learns while working. After some general training, Eva underwent a process of job ‘shadowing’. Soon, Eva was wonderfully immersed in their work and participated in outreach programs, workshops and exposure visits to Rajasthan and Maharashtra.


Bring Your Own Repertoire, And Creative Will

Bookworm looks for diverse skill sets in volunteers. Field-work story tellers, story readers, creative arts people and researchers; or hands-on support in administration, publicity, data entry, library coding, shelving at sites or in their office. Ms. Noronha adds, “If you are interested, we will match a task to your interest levels and welcome you! We develop our own reading resource materials and have distribution material that need design, layout, creative elements – we are constantly looking for designers.”

Bookworm found Eva’s perspective of design, her graphic design skills as an illustrator, invaluable to their work. “Eva had the skills and the creative will”, Sujata explained, “Given all the diversity and cultural barriers, Eva worked hard on many design projects during her five months at Bookworm.  To have a designer on the team, who could deliver within tight timelines, who understood the context and vision because she chose to, enhanced everything for us.”


Living Like Locals

Eva lived in the Panjim area, sharing an apartment with other Bookworm interns.“The whole experience was truly overwhelming and surprising! The warmth and friendship from the Bookworm leader, Sujata, and her family, welcoming me into their home, and introducing me to Goan culture was invaluable. There was so much to learn from everyone around me and I was fortunate to make valuable friends – one more reason to keep coming back to India.” Eva explained.


Cross Cultural Enrichment

Eva had a rich learning experience. She is not alone in this enriching cross-cultural experience.  Every year there are thousands of people who chose to volunteer their time and skills in acts of giving and come away from it with so much more. They contribute in an vital way to help others and find themselves transformed by the experience – a new perspective, a new appreciation of things, relationships, people and ideas that they would otherwise not have.   The rewards of willingly giving your time and skills are many and the returns are limitless.

In Eva’s story, I was reminded of a close friend and passionate traveller and now veteran volunteer, Tanya De Mello.  There’s a great youtube video of her giving a talk at TEDx University of Waterloo, which is well worth watching, about how she got her job – working for the UN.  Her simple message to her audience was Volunteer, Do something.  Do the things you can do. And be sincere.


Photos Courtesy Bookworm Goa

Graphics courtesy Eva Dumitrescu