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Narrative Change

#VolunteerSpeak: Getting Behind-the-Scenes of Non-Profit Work

By January 23, 2021December 20th, 2023No Comments

I am Isabel Canalejo, a prospective Dual BA student at Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University from Madrid, Spain. As an individual interested in social justice and looking to get involved in human rights law, I am constantly looking for new collaborative spaces from which to learn more about the need for aid and empowerment, especially in 2020 where the coronavirus and environmental disasters threatened to broaden the wealth gap.

At the non-profit Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), where I was placed for an internship via the Columbia Global Centre, Mumbai, I worked on multiple communication-related assignments, like developing a comprehensive dictionary specific to the development sphere, writing a situational analysis on the Vasai-Virar area in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and contributing to media analysis at the organisation. While working on reports, I attempted to accurately contextualize the work of different initiatives, such as YUVA’s role in supporting vulnerable people’s holistic needs as part of the Jeevan Rath network, which was setup in response to the impact of the pandemic on the poor, and the inspiring work of the youth programme Anubhav Shiksha Kendra (read my blog on their efforts here).

Overcoming challenges faced

Throughout the internship, I faced some challenges, especially considering the online nature of my work. The first came about when researching the Vasai-Virar area since I ran out of resources on the niche topics I was looking into. Thankfully, when I went through some videos of the on-ground situation shared by YUVA, I was able to extract information and add more testimonials.

Although not understanding Hindi was never a problem when I was completing my tasks, given YUVA’s useful translations of texts I needed to refer to, I did rely on my supervisor’s summary of a training session for the media analysis which was conducted in Hindi. Her summary proved extensive and I was able to complete my analysis without any major setbacks. I did, however, face a technical challenge when working on the media analysis: the website I was using to access newspaper editions did not go further back than the 14th of April so I needed to work with what was available. The few challenges I faced were easily resolved thanks to the support of the organisation.

Reflecting on my work with YUVA

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was desperate to help those hit hardest from the lockdown, attempting to write reflection pieces for online projects and sign petitions. Working with YUVA online provided me not only with an opportunity to use my skills for good, but to learn about everything involved in non-profit work from the on-ground volunteers to those documenting their work. As someone who follows many non-profits and is looking towards a career in this sector, I was grateful for the insider perspective I had this summer.

Analysing newspapers and researching the proper use of development-related language was particularly interesting for me as someone involved in journalism and interested in the importance of inclusive language. I have learned that it is best to use strength-based language and avoid needs-based language in order to highlight the potential of a brighter future with the right resources, something that will come in handy for future writing. During my media analysis task, harnessing analytical skills allowed me to read articles from a different perspective, recognising the effect of bias in journalism, which I now pay particular attention to as I read the daily news.

Since I’ve mostly been writing and researching, these are the areas where I have developed my skills the most. Learning how to adapt my language to different types of documents (eg: articles, reports and media posts) has been very insightful. As an incoming history student, I have also appreciated the purpose of my work with YUVA since it reflects my belief in the necessity of documenting history for future use.

As an individual interested in social justice and looking to get involved in humanitarian work, YUVA’s mission and philosophy aligned with my own. I knew that, despite the online experience, I would learn about the importance of non-profit organisations especially during a crisis like the coronavirus that threaten to broaden the gap between underprivileged people and their access to knowledge, basic services and relief. Although I thought I would face difficulties connecting with my work remotely, I could not picture a better learning experience than my internship with YUVA. I will take forward the values, skills and appreciation of documentation that YUVA has instilled in me into all my future endeavours.

Volunteering in the new normal has so far brought unexpected advantages. As a young adult in Madrid, I was able to put my skills and passions to use across the world, broadening my understanding about the impact we can have on the world. YUVA’s work and its willingness to take on an intern in a different continent with little connection to India, has reinforced my belief in the power of turning points in promoting international collaboration. Thanks to this experience, I have learned about Indian culture, the complexities of Hindi when looking through case studies and the similarities I share with Indian youth’s struggles to take up space during my project documenting Anubhav Shiksha Kendra’s work. The new normal has provided me with a glimpse of hope within the chaos of the pandemic.

In every task I worked on with YUVA, I was struck by the incredible efforts of the organisation to work towards a more inclusive, just and open-minded society. Watching countless videos of YUVA volunteers handing out food packages and getting testimonies from migrant workers, my work took on a purpose: to document YUVAs inspiring response to these unprecedented circumstances. I have written reports, articles, analysed newspapers, edited case studies and gained insight into the behind the scenes work of volunteer work. Being able to lend a hand using my writing and analytical skills was very fulfilling for me, strengthening my hopes to continue working for non-profit organisations.

As I enter my first year of university, I know the skills and lessons I gained while interning with YUVA will prove invaluable. Most importantly, I now know that there is always room to help those in need, even if it is thousands of kilometers away through a computer.

Isabel Canalejo, Dual BA student, Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University. Isabel interned with YUVA from 29 June–6 September 2020.

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