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A volunteer without borders

Online volunteer Ashok Pillai volunteers as a University Coordinator with RESPECT International. (UNV)Online volunteer Ashok Pillai volunteers as a University Coordinator with RESPECT International. (UNV)
15 January 2009

New Delhi, India: A self-confessed online volunteering "addict", in his work for war-affected populations, Ashok Pillai transcends national borders.

As someone with passion to help bring about positive change, Mr. Pillai found that the volunteer assignments he found via the UNV Online Volunteering service were the perfect solution to combining volunteerism with his personal and professional obligations.

"Online volunteering is unique in that you work with people from all parts of the world towards a common cause," he says. "It is a powerful tool that can dissolve boundaries and mend fences."

"Online volunteering unfolded an entirely new world to me," he continues, "where I could 'virtually' help in my own small way with issues that are not limited to manmade boundaries." He has now worked on online volunteering assignments for three years, and often commits three hours per day to his tasks.

Mr. Pillai's key interest is in setting up post-secondary education for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – though he has never met one. He currently volunteers as a University Coordinator with RESPECT International, an NGO based in Winnipeg, Canada. A RESPECT team of 30 online volunteers from 30 countries provides correspondence courses for IDPs around the world.

There are certainly challenges to be faced. "While conducting correspondence courses is not easy, conducting such courses in war-affected areas with poor communication links is even more difficult," he says. However, responses from refugees have been very positive, and in 2009 his team hopes to double the enrolment of students from 100 to 200.

The nature of online volunteering helps the international team to meet their objectives. "Everyone by his or her own free will takes up the responsibility to ensure that the set goal is reached," remarks Mr. Pillai. "There are times when the online volunteer gets more friends on to help with the project. The entire project is transparent, and when an online volunteer stops contributing temporarily for personal reasons, there is always someone else to take their place."

"Online volunteering is a powerful way of bringing people from all around the world to work towards a better understanding of each other," he adds. "It gives an opportunity to all those who have the inclination to volunteer but do not have the time. I believe online volunteering can significantly contribute towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals."

In terms of personal fulfilment, Ashok Pillai feels that his volunteer assignments have been incredibly rewarding. "I have gained a lot from volunteering," he explains. "When I receive a letter from a refugee that he could find a job in an NGO, or that he plans to put what he has learnt to good use, I feel great satisfaction."
UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)