| August 14th, 2007

* volunteerism

From Our Archive:

“Volunteerism is the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain¦ the vast majority work on an impromptu basis, recognising a need and filling it, whether it be the dramatic search for a lost child or the mundane giving of directions to a lost visitor.“ a definition of Volunteerism by Wikipedia is the closest to the meaning I was looking for that I came across when I searched the net.

During my short visit to ˜home sweet home” in summer 2006, I was told repeatedly Volunteerism is a luxury for the people around here, when I was trying to recruit volunteers for Adhunika.  Yet, I found the same old norms and values of immediate and the extended family (which often includes friends) to be there in time of crisis.

When everything fell apart from the moment I arrived in Dhaka “ from lost luggage to unprofessional services of the people at the airport I found what it meant to be back home and back with the family, it took me a day or two to change my mode and let the elders take care of things. I saw my family stopped their daily routine just to take care of things for me, even the friends whom I don’t see for years volunteered their time to baby-sit so I could keep my official appointments, and few designated themselves to be a chauffer when I needed to commute in the busy road in Dhaka.

Even though until the last minute I was told numerous times that volunteerism is a luxury for the people in Bangladesh, I was relieved to find the busy schedule, the chaos, the energy,  the unpredictable things in life hasn’t change a bit the way we go out of our way to help\volunteer to help ˜the family” in Bangladesh.

If you are wondering what that has to do with Adhunika or why I chose to write about volunteerism today? Because the other day someone told me in US Bangladeshis don’t volunteer for good cause, but I have yet to find a Bangladeshi family who doesn’t go out of the way for the family“ be that close or distant, and provide the energy or resources when the occasion arises. Although we take things for granted in Bangladesh, and don’t necessarily name it volunteerism, nonetheless it is ingrained in our culture to do things for others.

So, what that means to you – especially when you are  in a foreign land by yourself, in a totally different environment and culture, what do you do with yourself, with your values and support system of the extended family? Especially if you were working in Bangladesh or have a degree, and now sitting home not doing anything fulfilling (emotional, financial) it is understandable to feel the void in your life, and this is why I decided to write about what worked for me over the years, and maybe inspire few of you to take a leap of faith.

I come from a close-knit family, we could talk about everything with our parents, and although I am the youngest in the family I consider my siblings to be my friends. So when I decided to come and study in the US, I chose to be away from all that support and love, I didn’t realize it then but  now that I look back I can see why I hardly felt that void (missing ˜the family” was/is irreplaceable ).  When I first moved to the States as a student, within a month I signed up with various school organizations, and as time went by I started volunteering with the local shelters for women and children. I found I enjoyed being involved with those organizations; I soon gained the support system I used to get from my family and didn’t feel so out of place in a foreign land. I think it was a natural extension of me; I was used to seeing my parents being social and caring in the affairs of others.

When I got married I continued my volunteerism with selective organizations, and after I graduated I kept in touch with organization I volunteered over the years. I strongly believe my involvement with the organization gave me the support I would have gotten from my family, and I gained the professionalism one can get from volunteering in an organization over here. When I relocated to a new State, left all the family and the support system, Internet became my savior, ˜Adhunika” took shape, and it was few of the friends who started supporting the web portal on leisurely basis. Slowly that became a tool to bridge the gap from my home to my other home“ Bangladesh.

In four years the number of friends/volunteers increased, and look where we are at right now? We have a  web portal dedicated to the women of Bangladesh, we have a strong network of people who supports a school in Dhaka where girls can afford to get information technology training, and we have this blog where you can get information on how to get admitted to the US Schools to how to balance your life and your relationship with your family. And if you didn’t know, all this is done because people like you and me decided to volunteer their time for a good cause; many of whom has fulltime job, has family and other social commitments. I don’t know what others have gained being involved with Adhunika, as a volunteer I have gained many good friends who questions me, makes me wonder about life, and always make me thrive for more.

So, if you are like me, if you come from a family who was always there for you, and you are sitting here and moping how wonderful it was in Bangladesh I would suggest “ don’t waste your energy on trivial things, go out, ask around, ask your friends, your relatives, ask us – where you can use your talent, your skill and gain that support system you miss so much. The magic word is “volunteer”, if you don’t or can’t work without proper training or papers, just volunteer with the organization you think fits your need, and soon you will find it has changed your life for better.

~ Shahnaz S. Yousuf, Founder adhunika


10 Responses to “* volunteerism”

  1. Russell says:

    The idea of volunteerism and community service is still an unfamiliar concept in Bangladesh. I’m personally involved with some volunteer-based projects and the experience has been quite frustrating — most of the guys expect to get paid.

  2. Ishret says:


    Thanks for the great article! You are so right, volunteerism (at least the willingness for it in the name of helping others) is in the blood of most Bangladeshi people. However, when we label it with this name “volunteerism”, people think it is luxury. Someone made a comment (while talking about volunteerism, etc.) recently that volunteerism and charity take place only if you have enough money. Perhaps it is true for charity, but I cannot agree with this about volunteerism. For me, it always gives me some sort of satisfaction for being able to do something, anything, for others who could get something out of it. Even with charity, not necessarily you have to donate money. Time is money as well!

    – Ishret

  3. Bina says:

    Thanks for starting this interesting discussion Shahnaz. I worked as a volunteer since I have been 10 years old, starting with the YCS (Young Students’ Christian Movement) in Holy Cross School. From there I moved to the Young Teens Group in YWCA and then several social committees in the Y. Outside these community oriented groups created by non profit organisations, I worked with Bandhan, a youth organisation and also with BARAKA, say no to drugs campaign. And these are all in Bangladesh.

    So, volunteerism does exist in Bangladesh. My experience as a volunteer provided some of the most fascinating raw materials for me as a practitioner and researcher in later years. I volunteered in remote rural areas in Bangladesh, distributed medicine and food after 1989 floods in slum areas in Dhaka and also worked as a relief worker after the 1991 cyclone in Chittagong.

    Volunteerism offers fantastic opportunities to work with other like-minded people and it provides a space to learn about ourselves too. It is not true that people expect financial gains from their work as volunteers. If they do, it is often due to the lack of information or understanding.

    However, there are several important issues to consider here. First, leaders of various volunteer groups need to motivate and encourage people. It is always useful to start with young minds. Groups which have younger generation could plant the seeds of compassion and social responsibility early. And believe me; it is so much better than just watching TVs all the time! Life in apartments for the younger generation does not offer diversity. Working as a volunteer opens up interesting social spaces for the youth. If parents are encouraged to involve their young boys and girls in such community work, volunteerism will have amazing potential.

    Secondly, we must remember that volunteers come and go when they wish. Because these are not paid jobs, the interest level will vary in different times or according to different projects. So, coordinators and leaders of volunteer groups need to be patient, need to constantly invite new members and also create a relaxing environment in the groups so people could actually feel that the experience was rewarding for them.

    Thirdly, there are all sorts of reasons to involve volunteers for a specific task. But it is important to involve them in decision-making, make them part of the whole experience in every level and avoid establishing a hierarchical structure. It is important to be sensitive to various power dynamics and maintain equality (gender, class and religious equalities for example) in the group.

    Finally, it is important to indicate the benefits of being a volunteer. In addition to making the experience itself rewarding, volunteer groups could be the launch pad for networking, trainings, and internships and so on. These will be invaluable for future paid employments.

    As Shahnaz states, Bangladeshis are wonderfully generous. If directed in an appropriate manner, they can contribute immensely as socially responsible and responsive activists.

  4. Tony says:

    What a fabulous article! You are right on! This is great advise for everyone young and old. Volunteerism is a very human attribute. It is also an act of unselfish giving to better life and society at large. You are very right! Many people volunteer to assist others without even thinking about it. It is natural to us because of our close knit families and freinds. Great work!

  5. Rahat says:

    With so much problems in Bangladesh, we need to have a much bigger core of helpers. Volunteerism is a great way to give back, but unless we have mass social improvements it will be hard to get more people join up for such activities.

  6. Shahreen says:

    Great article and very useful to me. Given Im looking in to volunteering in bangladesh for next few months and it is turning out to be a difficult task. I was lucky enough find a organization where I can go volunteer but after few e-mails I havent heard from her again! it is very frustration beacsue I would like every thing to be set up before I leave and that is not happening. Im still going ahead with my trip and hoping I will have better luck once i get there.

  7. Anonymous says:


    You are so right about everything you said in the article and recently talking to my friends -I was saying that Bengali people don’t have that mentality but I was so wrong – you are right – if there is ever any emergency, everyone chips in – so there is more kind heartedness you find in Bengali people everywhere – the difference is that its not structured volunteer work when you are constantly helping out family and friends! Great idea, great follow up discussion!


  8. Asif says:


    Very nice piece. You speak for me when you say that what a rewarding experience it has been for me personally. Other than the obvious gratification aspect of helping others, volunteering enabled me to make some lifelong friends whom I otherwise would not have met.
    Fortunately, the concept of volunteering among the NRBs are changing and that is why now there are so many outlets where one can use their skillset. All the best,


  9. lipton says:

    When I volunteered in Dhaka, people laughed at me. When I volunteer in the U.S., people still laugh at me. In both cases they are our own people-Bangladeshis. Why they laugh at me? Very simple. They think it is stupid to volunteer since it does not have any tangible outcome: MONEY.

    A lot of time the tradition of volunteerism is rooted in the family. It is because of my family, I have been able to volunteer from an orphanage in Dhaka to a homeless shelter in the State. My determination to help the needy and the helpless is a driving force towards this F-R-E-E service.

    No matter we are in Desh, or in Bidesh – it is our attitude that needs to be improved when it comes to this noble job: volunteerism.

  10. Nabeel says:

    I think volunteerism means different things to different “class” of people. The distinction is important in that it clarifies the confusion generated over the terminology itself.

    Volunteerism as a luxury: Clearly, it applies to people belonging to a upper-middle to higher class of people those who would “volunteer” their time for a cause, though mostly for self-gratification than the cause itself.

    Volunteerism as an outlet for social engagement: I think think this refers to students… students those who become active in society as they grow and are vibrant in energy and commited in spirits. This is one selfless group of people – but history tells us, the spirit dies soon. However, if a structure can be provided at this juncture, then the structure may itself sustain, though the faces of the students may change… a glaring example: SHONDHANI.

    Volunteerism as social networking: This also refers to mostly upper-class do-gooders, LIONS, LEO, ROTARY, etc. come to mind, though they have been able to formalize these and consequently been able to contribute in society in real terms.

    Volunteerism as a tool for development: I conducted a small scale research on unpaid healthworkers… primarily traditional birth attendants. For research purposes, these people name Community Resource Persons, were recruited in the project and were asked to work as “change-agents” who would disseminate certain health messages, assist pregnant mothers to reach referral facilities, and go about doing their business as usual. Nothing too complicated. I wanted to see if this works at all…

    Results: Unpaid work is not sustainable for obviousl reasons… this is especially true to rural women who do not have the money to sustain themselves to begin with. CAVEAT: This is NOT entirely true. This job enabled these women to create social networks, which eventually became their path toward greater social mobility and employment… in this case – more and more deliveries to be performed!

    Conclusion: Volunteerism, it is going to succeed, needs to be a part of a greater social system so that volunteers do not have to go on volunteering till the end…

    Yes we are eager to help, but we are not saints.

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Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more



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