Our PR Team took some time to talk to our long-time volunteer Garima Bangard who has taken several roles over the years and played a significant role in shaping our treasury team and streamlining our funds tracking and budgeting process. We have highlighted some of her answers here.
Good morning, Garima. Tell me about what you do as an Asha volunteer.
I play few different roles for Asha. I have been the treasurer for the Seattle chapter for the last three years. I am an event coordinator. I have been the project steward for the project Muskaan for the last 7 years and have been nominated to the Asha central treasury role this year.
How did you get involved with Asha?
In 2010, a friend invited me to a chapter meeting. After the meeting, a volunteer chatted with me and asked me if I’d be interested in in a role as co-steward for the project Muskaan from Bhopal. I have been the project steward since then.
What is project Muskaan?
Muskaan is an organization that supports the education to children from the bastis (slums) of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. The organization’s primary focus is on the education of children unable to access mainstream schools through its education programs for schools, preschool, and residential camps. The communities they work with are schedule tribes such as Gond and Pardhi who come from the tribal regions of Madhya Pradesh. This community’s primary occupation is rag picking from the streets of Bhopal and being day time labors. It is so impressive to see the impact that Muskaan has made in the lives to the otherwise backward communities of Bhopal.
What was your motivation for working on this project?
I guess this goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a rural and backward area of MP where we did not have easy access to good schools. Fortunately, my family could afford to send me to a quality school though it was far from where we lived. Many of my friends were not so lucky. I knew that they could do much better at studies if they went to better schools. This thought has stayed with me since. Giving kids access to quality education early is important. Muskaan reaches out to 800 kids every year in 23 slums of Bhopal.
How have you managed to sustain the initial surge of excitement over all these years?
I’m reminded of my first site visit for the project. That was one big reason. The visit was to a building that the government had donated to Muskaan. It was the month of April or May and the children sat under a tin roof. I still remember how hot it was. There was no fan or anything. But, I was amazed to see that the children had smiles on their faces and were genuinely happy to be there. It was an instructive moment for me. To see such small children being happy with such scarce resources was inspiring. I came off from that experience wanting to do more for them. There have been many such moments since.
Very nice! Have you been able to help them in the way you intended on your first visit?
I think so. As a steward for the project, other than the recurring support for the program expenses every year, I have been able to get Asha to support the construction of a school for Muskaan at the budget of Rs.1.3 crore. This took 3.5 years and Asha provided 44 lakhs of the total funds. Asha also supported in the development of computer lab, recording and pottery studio in the new building by sending 9.3 lacs in 2017. I’m proud of the part I was able to play in making this happen.
Wonderful! In a way, you kept the promise that you made to yourself on your first site visit. You are also the events coordinator for Asha. Tell me more about that.
When I started with Asha, there was no dedicated events team in the Seattle chapter. I still remember the first time I participated in hosting of an event. I saw a $1000 check donated by somebody in the audience. That was when the impact of what we do struck me. It is one thing to look at fundraising dollar figures on a spreadsheet and quite another to actually hold a $1000 check that somebody donated at an event that you planned!
Later, I helped form the events team and was among the first few events coordinators. The events team is responsible for everything from ideation of new events to planning, negotiating contracts, handling logistics of events, bringing sponsors, executing on the day of the event and maintaining ongoing relationships with our event partners. We are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to spread the word about Asha and to reach new donors and volunteers through our events.
That sounds important to get right for Asha. Does this relate, at all, to your day job? How did you the gain the skills to perform this role?
My day job has nothing to do with event planning. We gained these skills in the process of doing these things for Asha. There are, of course, certain skills than you gain at work that you naturally use here and vice versa. For instance, presentation skills, planning, delegation, mentoring junior volunteers and handling interpersonal issues are all skills I have gained while volunteering for Asha. They have served me well in my regular job too.
You mentioned that you are also the treasurer for the Seattle chapter. How did you learn to perform those duties?
I am an accountant. So, it is somewhat related to my profession. But there are things I do here that I have not done on my day job. For instance, budgeting and accounting for a non-profit is something that I’ve done only for Asha. As with the case of event planning, I had to pick up these skills on the job.
As somebody that wears so many hats for Asha, how much time do you end up spending in a typical week?
There is no typical week. There is a huge variation in how much time I spend during different times of the year. On a busy week, I might spend up to 6-8 hours.
Where does this time come from? What have you had to sacrifice to make time for Asha?
Nothing much actually. Time can be made by being more deliberate about how you spend it. There are many small pockets of time during the day when you can complete small tasks. This could be when you are waiting for something. For instance, it takes only couple minutes to send a quick reply to an email.
As somebody with such breadth of experience working for Asha, what is your advice to somebody considering volunteering for Asha?
Just do it! Many people worry that they might sign up to spend a lot of time and might not be able to do it. Don’t worry about it. We understand. Asha is a 100% volunteer run organization and everybody here is juggling work, family and volunteering work. We are all like you! The reason this system works is that we can pick up each other’s’ slack. There will be times when your work gets super hectic and you might not be able to fulfill your Asha responsibilities. There may be times when your family is going through a crisis. We understand. There is never a perfect time to join. Just join and see how it goes. The beautiful thing about Asha is that we can customize the volunteer experience to you and work within your time constraints. There is something for everyone. Like to work alone in your own space? No problem. Like to be social and have fun while doing a something meaningful? No problem. Start by attending a volunteer orientation and see where it leads.
Finally, as a veteran Asha member, what do you think Asha could do better?
Asha could do a better job of telling its story. We do such tremendous work. But a lot of people aren’t aware of what we do. We need to do a better job of spreading awareness about Asha and work that we do.