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Human Kindness is Limitless

Written by Tahera Sajid  •  Cover Stories  •  July 2011 PDF Print E-mail

The culture of volunteerism is inherent in many societies and acts as a supplement to state functions. It is an expression of the spirit of human compassion. Sometimes, however, it is also a response to the failure of the state apparatus that prompts people to form support networks with friends and families in times of crisis. Whatever the reason, societies at large benefit tremendously from selfless acts of devoted volunteers.

Volunteer work is defined as work motivated not by material gains or external pressures, but by free will. It may include assisting the physically, socially or mentally disadvantaged, running literacy programs and disease prevention and awareness campaigns by contributing time, skills and resources. A question that often comes to mind is how the spirit of compassion takes root in communities in the first place, and whether it is dependent on the level of affluence in societies.

A cursory glance at some aspects of developed and underdeveloped cultures around the world shows motivated people in all socio-economic groups, and sometimes more so in disadvantaged groups wherein the element of empathy plays an important role even though financial constraints may paralyze action. That is where international charity organizations play an important role by offering financial support to genuine humanitarian causes.

In the U.S., the spirit of volunteerism is inculcated from a very young age, starting with pre-school children. By involving their parents in educational and fun activities, the community takes a teach-by-example route.  As we go higher up the educational ladder, this trend is further seen to be strengthened when colleges encourage ‘Gap-year’ volunteer work experiences at home and abroad. The idea is to work on a cause one feels passionate about and learn valuable life lessons along the way. Needless to say, these programs benefit recipient societies tremendously.      

The possibilities are therefore endless when it comes to selecting one’s cause – from becoming a part of charities focusing on creating safe and supportive atmosphere for small children, to getting involved in pressing economic situations like provision of affordable housing for low-income families.

When choosing social volunteerism as their passion, American citizens are never short of opportunities in their multicultural and multiethnic society. Social volunteerism helps develop a healthy pluralistic culture that focuses beyond religious, ethnic and racial barriers and challenges misconceptions, thereby encouraging social harmony. To quote just one example from a small town in Massachusetts, the Sharon Pluralism Network is a collaboration of seven town organizations “that partner together to support multicultural and interfaith understanding and engagement,” bringing change at grassroots level in society.

This American spirit of volunteerism is extended wholeheartedly to outside the country as well and has greatly benefited South Asian societies. For example, the charity, CARE, has worked extensively in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal to fight poverty and social injustice, running literacy programs and empowering women. CARE volunteers worked tirelessly in Pakistan during the 2010 floods alongside local volunteers to provide shelter, health, sanitation and safe water facilities.

CARE projects in India and Sri Lanka focus on disadvantaged children at orphanages and care centers, helping with teaching both life skills and handicrafts along with basic education and supporting the mentally and physically challenged.

In Nepal, CARE projects work on special needs education and vocational training at orphanages. In Bangladesh, volunteer work focuses more on improving the local infrastructure that is perpetually caught up in a cycle of cyclones and floods. American volunteers have helped locals in building walls, drainage systems, playgrounds and clinics and run educational programs that focus on health. Also, CARE projects have focused on food insecurity, maternal mortality, HIV prevention strategies, literacy, capacity building of communities, etc.

Pakistan’s rich history of art and architecture stretches back 5,000 years, while the existing weak state of governance, coupled with threats of terrorism, has rendered the country paralyzed on many fronts. However, challenged by the holes in sustained development efforts of the State, resilient Pakistanis continue to take up the roles of builders and sustainers.

The Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP) ranks Pakistan as the sixth most philanthropic country in the world. In a 2004 study it noted that more than 200,000 Pakistanis volunteer their skills on a full-time basis. According to a 2005 report by The Christian Science Monitor, “Pakistan has one of the highest rates of philanthropy in the world… 58 percent of Pakistanis volunteer their time to needy causes, giving nearly $700 million a year in charity.”

From the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital of Imran Khan which was built solely on public donations worth $22.2 million, to one man’s dream, the Edhi Foundation, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest volunteer ambulance service, benefits millions of people in need, this culture of charity is indeed intrinsic to Pakistani society though it faces numerous challenges on a daily basis.

Despite widespread corruption in many government departments, volunteer charity organizations are widely respected for maintaining transparency and creating an efficient and effective image of Pakistani volunteers.
Pakistanis living abroad, like Pakistani-Americans, also continue to support the less privileged in their country of origin. During the 2005 Earthquake and the 2010 Floods, they donated generously towards relief efforts.

Many Pakistani-American organizations also contributed time, skills and funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and for victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to the U.S. State Department’s ‘The Washington File’. Active organizations included Pakistani Association of Greater Seattle, Association of Pakistani-American physicians, The Council of Pakistan-American Affairs (COPAA) of Southern California, The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America (OPEN), etc. Many Pak-Americans contributed in individual capacities as well. 

Conversely, for years American volunteers have been working through charities and in individual capacities in Pakistan in relief efforts during disasters, often running 12-hour long shifts. While their contribution has been invaluable, an important feature of this contact is formation of bonds which go beyond the short period of actual contact and helps dispel misconceptions on both sides.

An American volunteer Dr. Mary Burry visited Pakistan for relief work during the 2005 Earthquake. The Christian Science Monitor quoted her as saying, “Like most Americans, I had the idea that this is a pretty dangerous place to be…” and the experience “totally changed my concept of Pakistan.” Another American volunteer, Wesley Olson remarked, “I’ve been to eight or nine countries by now - and by far the nicest people I’ve met have been here.” In turn, Pakistanis were also deeply touched by the generosity and dedication of the American helpers. When all sides prosper due to actions of a few, it is indeed a wonderfully simple way to bring countries closer.

Volunteer work helps develop a culture of kindness and compassion by benefiting the most vulnerable sections of communities, enriching the giver as much as the receiver. Selfless volunteer work is simply an act of human kindness that spreads outwards and envelopes everyone in its warmth.  


Tahera Sajid is a freelance journalist and lives in Massachusetts, USA.  She is a community builder and an active advocate for interfaith relations. 

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written by Saniya Sohail , July 11, 2011

with so much corruption in the society, Pakistan with its numerous NGOs and volunteering organizations has proved that this corrupt society is mainly restricted to the people in power. the task of helping the poor, needy, uneducated, poverty stricken, internally displaced is the government's responsibility, but no such help is given out by them. it is the common ordinary citizens who generously donate from whatever little they earn to help their fellow countrymen.
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written by Kareem Malik , July 07, 2011

while the government always 'successfully' manages to fail in the time of need, the ngos, and ordinary people like Edhi are the ones who always come through for the needy.
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written by hafsa , July 06, 2011

even though Pakistan is a very poor country, it has proved time and again that its citizens have big hearts. during the terrible earthquake that shattered almost half of the northern areas, the recent floods, and many other instances have shown that Pakistani people do not lack kindness.
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written by Shiphrah , July 06, 2011

i agree with ayman. people have become too materalistic to appreciate the small little things that make life bearable everyday.
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written by Ayman Shere , July 05, 2011

We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity.
A very nice piece of work, feels proud to be Pakistani

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