NGO wants 100,000 volunteers to spread inclusion message (Dec 5 is International Volunteer Day)

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 04, 2012 10:40 hrs

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) Targeting exclusion and poverty, an Indian NGO is aiming to motivate 100,000 volunteers and one million citizens in the next five years to ensure inclusion and equality for all in the areas of health, education, livelihood and disability.

"Since 2008, we have motivated 4,780 Indian volunteers and 11,000 active citizens to serve as force multipliers. We plan to raise this to 100,000 and one million by 2017 as part our new strategy for the country," Ratna Viswanathan, executive director of VSO India, told IANS ahead of International Volunteer Day Wednesday.

While volunteers refers to those who work full time for a year or two on specific projects, active citizens are those who spread the message of inclusion alongside their daily work, explained Viswanathan.

The NGO, part of Britain-based charity VSO International, sends 30-40 volunteers to African countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania principally to work in areas like disability.

"Our overall goal is to support poor and marginalised people and significantly improve their quality of life. In implementing our new strategy, we are always trying to find new and imaginative ways to connect people to take sustainable action and deliver programmes of inclusive growth," said Viswanathan, who served 21 years in the Indian Audit and Accounts Service before the development bug bit her.

"We believe that it is only by working at local, regional and national levels with a range of partners from government and civil society that we can make a sustainable impact," added Viswanath.

VSO India, Viswanathan said, is committed to addressing issues of poverty and exclusion as it works for empowerment of marginalised communities with a focus on dalits, tribals, Muslims, women and disabled people in its four areas.

Working through partners, volunteers and communities, "we mainstream governance and gender into our focal themes", she added.

"Our uniqueness lies in the fact that we strengthen the quality of our programmes with the support of professionally skilled volunteers who work with both partner organisations and community to share knowledge and skills to ensure the quality of the programme," said Viswanathan, who served a five year stint in the defence ministry, including as director (Navy) and director (Border Roads).

VSO International is one of the world's leading independent development organisations that works through volunteers to overcome poverty in 42 countries across the globe. While it has had a presence in India since the late 1950s, it withdrew in the mid-1970s after the declaration of the Emergency and returned in 1994. In 2009, it became the VSO India Trust.

"During this time, VSO India has partnered with some 100 NGOs and has placed over 200 international volunteers with these partners - volunteers who build capacity to support grassroots participation and good governance," Viswanathan said.

It currently has a presence in Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Rajasthan and will be going forward by taking up Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

As part of its motivational efforts, VSO India is organising a seminar on "Active Citizenship For Sustainability" on International Volunteer Day. On Saturday, it will be holding a Volunteer Mela in at the Ansal Plaza amphitheatre in New Delhi, followed by a concert by rock band Indian Ocean.

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