volunteer

It is said that in life you don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you will find that you always get what you need. My experience with Adveka Foundation was one such happy coincidence.

2015 was ending on a very bad note. My family was facing financial difficulties, my sister was struggling with her academics, and my job had become dull and unchallenging. And the person who I thought would help me get through this phase had drifted away, leaving behind a potential relationship and series of questions. I needed an escape from my personal and family problems, and I wanted to do something positive and hopeful. So, I decided to volunteer with an NGO.

I reached out to several NGOs where I thought my skills as a food scientist could be utilized, and which were working for causes I am interested in, like child malnutrition and hunger. But none of my efforts seemed to be working. My last call was to a lady who used to work with an NGO for child protection. After listening to my unsuccessful attempts to find an organization to volunteer with, she shared the details of a new organisation called Adveka Foundation that had been started by her friend, and was working to promote mental health in every section of the society.

Now, how could a food scientist with no exposure to psychology, or even social work for that matter, contribute to an organization for mental health? I couldn’t imagine, but I decided to give it a try anyway. If nothing else, maybe it would help me in getting my life back together.

My first meeting with Maitreyi, the founder of Adveka, was more like spending time with a friend than appearing for an interview. Despite my lack of knowledge or experience with anything mental health-related, she was kind enough to give me a chance and took me on as a volunteer. And so, from December 2015, I began my journey with Adveka.

To begin with, Maitreyi did not have a fixed set of deliverables for me, and right from the start, I was introduced to every aspect of the organization. Not only did this prove to be a great learning opportunity for me as an intern, but it also helped me understand Adveka’s bigger vision.

I spent the first couple of months understanding how the organization functioned. Having no prior background in psychology made some aspects a little challenging to understand, like some of the first meetings I attended where we discussed the curriculum for caregivers. But I persevered, and subconsciously absorbed everything.

I gradually began contributing to the organization’s work. My market research and networking skills successfully helped us identify Cuddles Foundation as one of the first organizations to work with under the Saath programme. It has consequently proved to be a great partner for Adveka. This year, I have the opportunity to work on the Adveka blog, and leverage my research and writing skills. One of the main reasons I have enjoyed working with Adveka is the flexibility and freedom associated with the work, and the fact that my inputs on every subject, even though sometimes a little irrelevant, are always welcomed and valued.

Working with Adveka was also beneficial to me in my personal life. In one of our meetings, we discussed barriers to communication in relationships, and how differences in viewpoint and perception can lead to heated arguments with loved ones. But by changing the way we communicate, both verbally and physically, along with changing how we approach a disagreement, we can minimize the destructive potential of these interactions.

These strategies come back to me when I face such situations in my everyday life, and have helped me build better relationships with people. Today, I feel better equipped to deal with my mother’s volatile outbursts, and can show her better ways to deal with her stress. I have learnt healthier ways to cope with a frustrating day at work. I know better than to snap back at an irate commuter on the train, for each one is fighting their own battle. When I hear people being critical of someone suffering from a mental illness, I can challenge them and explain why it warrants for as much attention and care as a physical illness would.

One of the most insightful and rewarding experiences of my journey with Adveka was being part of the sessions for caregivers of cancer patients. It was a first-hand experience of learning how family and friends who had turned into caregivers cope by providing vital and constant emotional and personal care when something like cancer strikes. It showed me the importance of a healthy mind, and how it can take you through even the most trying times of your life. I realized the amount of mental strength it takes, and this makes me better prepared to face any such crisis of my own.

2016 wasn’t a very easy year either, but I have learned to be grateful for the good times and the good changes that come with the difficult times. I have become much calmer, and learnt to respond rather than react to problems. My fragile, self-doubting side hasn’t disappeared, and there are times when I want to give up. But as a volunteer with Adveka, I know I must lead by example.

 *Written by Pooja Sharma, Marketing Executive, Adveka Foundation.

** Edited by Samyukta Maindarkar, Editor & Content Manager, Adveka Foundation .

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