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Volunteering because I want to and I love doing it – Ashwini’s Experience

I used to volunteer a lot whilst I was a student in the UK.  My peers and I were always encouraged by our lecturers to volunteer. At first, I was reluctant to do so, as I felt that maybe I should be spending my extra time studying or rewarding myself by travelling to a different country after completing an assignment.  However, once I started volunteering, it became a new found hobby; it became addictive.

When I came back to Malaysia and started working at UNHCR, I wanted to do something worthwhile with my free time. I got to know about SUKA Society whilst working at UNHCR.  UNHCR works with SUKA Society from time to time on complex cases and I was very much interested in the work that SUKA Society was doing and decided to volunteer with them.

I have been involved with SUKA Society since June, 2013. I teach the trafficked survivors at the protection shelter, Bollywood dance whenever I can and soon I hope to be offering my counseling services to them as well. The survivors at the shelter consist of women and children from all over the world, such as India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, China and Indonesia. Though they differ in culture, language, and fate, they share one thing in common:  strength.  The survivors at the shelter have gone through unimaginable experiences. For months and even years, fear was their only companion, anxiety became their shadow and hope was something that never existed in their world. Nevertheless, once they were placed in the protection shelter, with time, their spirit became stronger, and their will to live increased.

As volunteers, we start to think, who are WE to tell THEM, that “everything is going to be okay?”.  They might get angry thinking that we can’t possibly understand what they went through.  Yet, I have realised from my volunteering experience that simply spending some time with the survivors can do wonders for their well-being. Certainly, they will need a lot of counseling and therapy to help them cope with their trauma, but, giving them a smile and just listening to their story or what they have to say will brighten up their day. See, if we were actually in these survivors’ shoes, we would feel helpless and miserable, and constantly feel that no one cares. A simple act of kindness will warm our soul. For example, if we are feeling stressed at work and a colleague gives you a bar of chocolate; it turns your frown upside down, doesn’t it?

Most people are becoming more and more competitive these days. A lot of us are too busy climbing up the social ladder, wanting to prove to others that we are better than they are. I’ve had acquaintances asking me in the past, why am I volunteering when I won’t be earning anything? The answer is simple:  It’s because I want to and I love doing it. At the protection shelter, whenever the other volunteers and I do activities with the survivors, it is wonderful to see them laugh and be so carefree. They truly deserve it.

Being a volunteer has taught me to be less selfish, less competitive, less judgmental, more patient, and most importantly, more grateful.  When I talk to the survivors, I have noticed how most of them are so positive and happy!  They are content to be alive. Something which a lot of us take for granted because we are so busy complaining about what we don’t have, that we forget to LIVE.  We need to keep reminding ourselves about what we do have, such as being surrounded by people we love and to be able to wake up every morning to a day without fear.

If you have time, be it an hour a week or a month, please get involved with SUKA Society and share your skills with these amazing survivors at the protection shelter.  Just like how they can learn from us, we can learn from them as well. If you don’t have the time, you can help by creating awareness about human trafficking and other related topics such as child labour/exploitation or the different types of abuse. Start speaking to your friends and family about it, share your thoughts on Facebook/Twitter or you can even carry out campaigns at your school/university/work place.

Volunteering is not about making you feel better about yourself nor is it about collecting brownie points so that karma will love you in return. Volunteering is all about making a difference to someone else and feeling genuinely happy doing it without expecting anything in return.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr)

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Ashwini Balagopal volunteers with SUKA Society, assisting in our work among trafficked victims. Despite her busy schedule, she still helps out whenever she can. We really appreciate her time and effort in providing much support to our work. Thank you!