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Roland Martin - Issue #55

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Volunteerism, voluntourism and Volunteers' Week
 

Roland Martin

June 13 · Issue #55 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Volunteerism, voluntourism and Volunteers’ Week

Volunteers
Along with #rak, #spreadthekindness and #bethegood, hashtags celebrating volunteering have been gaining increased traction through social media. Obviously there have always been volunteers volunteering, giving up their time for free, to benefit others, and we have always, as schools, encouraged our children to put others first. This past week has seen the hashtag #volunteersweek cropping up. 
I’m sure many of us can track how what we did for good once upon a time has made a difference to who we are and what we do now. Hopefully we will continue to enable children and young adults in our care to contribute to their own narratives in some way. 
It was through church for me. My mother helped at the Sunday school that I attended and so too, did I as I grew; and so I helped out with youth work, went away on residentials to help in underprivileged areas to help children a little younger than myself. 
Make a difference
If you’ve received a letter from me on school headed paper, you may have noticed ‘Learn, lead, make a difference’ in red, at the top. We ask our students to consider all three aspects of this instruction. Behind the scenes, we’ve been thinking a great deal about making a difference this week; students have all been asked to complete a survey on what they do for free for the benefit of others, outside of the classroom. We’re not aiming to measure them as individuals, indeed the survey is anonymous, but we have been wanting to find out what goes on, and what a force for good, our students can be, as well as collating information on what students might like to be doing that they don’t currently have the opportunity to do.
On the subject of why, I enjoyed this page from Global Vision International; it gives some pretty tangible and credible reasons to do some good - 17 excellent reasons, apparently! -  number one being that it’s good for the volunteer’s own physical, mental and emotional health. Not that I necessarily believe that personal gain should be the first/best reason for altruism, nor, indeed, is volunteering to enhance a UCAS application ever the right way round.
The UN has studied the impact of youth social action, stating that: ’Volunteering is associated with a 27% higher chance of employment … [and that young people are] key agents for social change, providing the energy, creative ideas and determination to drive innovation and reform.’ Their conclusion is that volunteerism is ’becoming more and more relevant as a mechanism to engage young people in global peace and sustainable human development.’
Pretty grand claims.
To be fair, the UN does itself offer a range of volunteering opportunities, even online volunteerism!
How to get involved
Sometimes, we find that young people just don’t know where and how to go about it. There are some useful sites set up expressly to enable those with time to match it to volunteering. Some allow you to search by age, by region and so on. I’ve previously looked into vinspired, do-it, Time Bank, Volunteering Matters, amongst others.
From something of an interested distance, I’ve been following the Conservative/LibDem coalition’s Big Society initiative - the National Citizen Service - and its work; I know that a good many of our students already participate after GCSEs on a three to four week course where they start off with expeditions, learn to live as students managing food and budgets, ending with a couple of weeks of action in their communities. You might spot some familiar faces in some of these articles on local ventures: for Transform housing support, cited twice; for Epsom Hospital; for Mencap. There is clearly much good going on as a result of this programme.
Voluntourism
There’s been some controversy over whether voluntourism - travel focused on volunteering - is more damaging than beneficial for recipients, even, as linked here, within one newspaper. There are balanced articles out there weighing up the personal pros and cons, reflections on experience, with advice on the right kinds of projects, if you are looking for an opportunity to get involved, starting out, not knowing where to look first. The fact that I’ve been able to link to so many discussions highlights just how hot a potato this one is.
Friends of ours set up an NGO in Kosovo; we asked them what they thought about it, and they’re pretty darn happy to welcome voluntourists to Pristina, not considering it a dirty word at all - they’ve certainly benefited from a variety of travellers engaging in The Ideas Partnership, and refuse to be cynical about taking what help they can get. I know the supermarket got there first, but it appears that every little really can help in small charities and their success. You can read about their story if you’d like to know more, or watch the slideshow our son (then aged 11) felt compelled to put together as a result of our visit in 2012.
Easy fixes
In the survey to students, we’ve tried to make it clear that volunteering can come in all shapes and sizes, from baking a cake for a charity sale to giving over regular periods of time each week to help others directly. 
Last week, some of our students - the Freemen’s Buskers - and staff gave up their Friday evening to entertain at a fundraising gala for the Leatherhead Youth Project. I never cease to be bowled over by the work going on in North Leatherhead through LYP; a charity set up to help local young people to be safe, happy and make positive changes in their lives. If you haven’t tried their coffee at All Saints’, I’d highly recommend it. I have it on good authority that the maple and pecan shortbread slices are worth a trip alone.
This week in school, our parents’ association, the FSA, has been encouraging parents to fill bags full of clothes for recycling and fundraising. Alongside this, they’ve agreed to collect baby clothes to send out to Kosovo for The Ideas Partnership. I hope we will be able to track some of the donations to see them in use out there, somehow … I’ve just got the challenge of figuring out how to get them there in the first place, but I know someone will volunteer some of their time, some of their know how, some time soon.
Findings
The survey results in so far (even if the turnout has not been as high as for the general election - but - an aside - well done youth voters across the country for getting out there and using the right to vote, regardless of outcome) are encouraging to say the least. Some of our young people do an awful lot of good in a range of ways. Some want to do more. Some don’t know how to go about finding opportunities … we will continue to share possibilities with them, look at how we enable them, consider carefully what they can and want to do as part of our responsibility to them.
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