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Keeping It Real
The snobby, elite group of kids were in a hustle. So lost were they in their hushed discussion that they did not realize that I was close enough to hear them. Also, let's get this straight, with all my quirky individuality and humble resources, I was least threatening to them; the type who had their lives sorted for them with access to the best professional consultancy to get them where they wanted to go.
A wrapper of expensive imported chocolate that was apathetically discarded by one of them in the wrong trashcan was calling at me. I heard 'volunteering' multiple times as I transferred the half-eaten candy bar to the recycling bin. I felt ashamed and reprimanded myself for prematurely prototyping them.
My friends enlightened me about how volunteering is an integral part of college applications and how high school students were expected to do a particular number of volunteering hours.
My friends started listing out the activities they were doing to tick off this 'requirement.' When it was my turn, I mentioned how I was a writer for a visually impaired girl for a couple of years before the pandemic, but I was told that was insufficient.
My medico mother was the coordinator with the health department for her hospital during the pandemic. I mentioned how I helped her manage the calls as her phones rang incessantly with frantic relatives trying to find a hospital bed for their loved ones. During those months, I also coordinated food delivery to houses in the neighborhood, sealed for the quarantined. How are you going to prove all this? said an unimpressed friend. You cannot have your mom vouch for you!! The 'loser' tone in her voice was only too evident.
I was now officially freaking out. I was vigorously browsing the internet when my mother walked in after a long day at work. She could sense my anxiety, so she sat down across me as she set her bags down.
What a Loser Me!
My initial calm voice soon reached a freaky decibel. My mother waited patiently for the rant to be done with. I told her that I had nothing in this category to highlight. I was a loser who had wasted all her time and was doomed!
I know my mother sees a lot of unfair suffering and pain at work. But this was big for me! Her 'we will figure it out' demeanor was annoying at that moment. This was an emergency that deserved a war-like response.
"How about when you helped your grandparents and their friends master the internet and mobile banking during the pandemic? How about when you helped them figure out the smartphone and apps and how to look for things that interested them? You spent hours working patiently with them. It was delicate work, helping them become self-reliant without hurting their pride."
That doesn't count, mom!! She couldn't understand. I had to find opportunities for volunteering that could translate into hours and could be documented with certificates!
"How about when you adopted Daisy (my puppy) as my colleague left her bereaved at the age of two months?" asked my mom. She was not getting it, was she? "Who is going to endorse that, mom?" I asked exasperatedly.
My mom could sense that she was fighting a losing battle. I was beyond reason.
Joining the BandWagon
"Alright, how about when you mentored Puja and helped her with her English-speaking skills? She is doing so well now and has managed to secure a good job too. That was through an NGO who would surely give you a certificate!" she said triumphantly for having made a point.
This NGO worked with students who studied in schools with the regional language as their medium of instruction. The underprivileged youth had to learn conversational English to help them improve their job prospects. I had given more than the prescribed hours as Puja was desperate to attain financial independence to support her family.
It was made clear to me at the beginning that since I was underage (less than 18 years), I would not get a certificate. I do not remember caring much then while I continue to work with girls much older than me. I also took basic French classes for interested kids in a nearby school where though the medium of instruction was English, they had no access to learn a foreign language. Here again, the school would not do anything more than provide me a classroom for a couple of hours every Saturday, for which I was grateful.
But now, I was close to tears while my mom was no help! I decided to take things into my hands and signed up for volunteering at a couple of online portals. I wrote a few project proposals and blogs and got a couple of hours on my certificate. I used speaking skills learned in the school drama club to record stories for kids as part of an enormous initiative by an NGO. I felt a bit confident seeing the hours build up on my certificate. I would eventually get there.
Heading back Home
While running amok in my frenzy, I had blocked out several thoughts which I felt would deviate me from the task at hand. But now that the smog had cleared, these questions rushed back to me.
By being someone I am not, will I not land in a place where I am a misfit? Obviously, after achieving the end purpose, I was not going to pursue it any further. Is it volunteering if I am working intending to get something in return for personal gains?
This was not working for me. I knew only too well that my intentions decided my karma and not just my deeds.
I was happier being myself and doing what I felt passionately about without having to worry about certificates. That does not mean that this system is flawed, just that I wanted to walk my path my way and follow my passion.
The love I get from the people whose hearts I touch and who touch my hearts is immensely precious. I need to be true to myself for my mental peace and to contribute at the grassroots in my own quirky way. If my efforts are provided with a certificate, that is fine. A document will never be the prime or sole motive for me to do what I do.
As I waited for my mother to tell her my revelations, I could visualize her 'Duh! At last, good sense prevails' expression.