International Volunteer Day: Turning schools into volunteering hubs

With the right guidance, teachers can support students in experiencing volunteerism, helping them to realize and fully comprehend the impact of their actions.

  • Read Time 4 min.

There are many ways youths can be involved in volunteering actions. On the occasion of International Volunteer Day today, we feel it is important to talk about the role schools can have in promoting a volunteering-inspired society. We are convinced that learning institutions in Nepal, especially in the rural areas, can become some of the best entry points to start promoting “active citizenship” that is enhanced through volunteerism and can be greatly instrumental for bottom-up development.

But first let’s clarify what volunteerism is. Oftentimes there is a lot of confusion about volunteerism: what it is, how it works, who should be the beneficiaries and so on.

We are talking about small actions from assisting in community events to helping out the most disadvantaged segment of the society to myriads of other “larger” engagements that can bring both immediate and long-term positive impacts—both on individual and collective fronts.

To bring further clarity to the concept, let us propose a different or better alternative name: the BIG V or big volunteerism. It’s simpler, cooler and gives the idea of how volunteerism is important. Moreover, it is a catchy expression that could create some sort of curiosity and interest among the youths and pave the way for them to give it a try. But the questions remain: Can schools become engines for promotion and implementation of the BIG V? How to embed volunteerism without creating an additional “burden” for the teachers? Can the BIG V contribute to better learning?

We are strongly convinced that volunteerism can be an element that can profoundly transform and improve how learning is imparted at school levels. Schools, indeed, can provide the platform for students to experiment and experience it.

First through small steps, a student can be introduced to the magic world of volunteerism, understanding its meanings, its implication and transformative powers.

Second, with the right guidance, teachers can support students in experiencing volunteerism, helping them to realize and fully comprehend the impact of their actions and some more.

Small actions can be powerful and though might not, in the first instance, be able to “move a mountain”, there is no doubt that, at community levels, even tiny initiatives out of a person’s generosity, can make some difference. For example, a student in a rural area of the country could help the local elders taking care of their livestock and fields or can help keep an eye on the absenteeism of their younger peers, sometimes unable to attend classes because of the domestic chores enforced on them.

Together they could run campaigns of awareness and sensibilization to discourage child marriage or other harmful practices that can affect the life of a child. But also some more because the BIG V can be also transformative for the youths practicing it and here volunteerism can impact the way learning happens.  It is a tool where a student can gain self-confidence and learn about key life values.

Volunteerism can be an element that can profoundly transform and improve how learning is imparted at school levels. Schools can provide a platform for students to experiment and experience it. 

Teachers and administrators in general should not underestimate this aspect of volunteerism because it is really tied to the overarching mission schools are mandated with: help a child reach her full potential. If you think about it, this is the whole scope of learning: it is not only about acquiring new knowledge and skills but it is also about reaching self-fulfillment and building the capacity of believing that change is possible.

Based on our own experiences, each child, no matter her abilities, capacities or family background and no matter her disability or lack thereof, can contribute to making the society better. That’s why it is so important to invest in teachers so that they can not only step up their game in the ways their students learn from them but they can also seize the opportunity and push themselves to embed the BIG in their classrooms. Because doing so will enhance the quality of the teaching experience.

In many nations, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, there are entire curricula focused on linking volunteerism with the core school curricula. Such an approach is called service learning and the terminology itself gives an idea that volunteerism, serving a cause or someone in need, can be truly a tool to help a student acquire new and better knowledge.

Students, including those with disabilities, can help solve local issues, by leveraging their creativity and resolve to advance the Agenda 2030 at local levels. If you think about it, the Sustainable Development Goals are not just high-level milestones that only policy makers should be worried about. They are also tools for locals, especially the youths, to step up their engagement and help solve local issues.

Certainly, there is a strong case to equip teachers and principals in the basics of the BIG V. The incredible thing is that we are not dealing with rocket science but with ideas and principles that can be easily internalized. A practical example could be a school preparing a BIG V plan, a document that could be even of one page length where it lists out the areas where its students will be active, possibly after engaging and involving them in the decision making.

Moreover, schools are well positioned to provide orientations on volunteerism and ‘active citizenship’ to students while local youth clubs can help establish volunteer clubs in which teachers would act as supervisor and coordinator. After all, if you think of it, all the Green Clubs set up in recent years in the country could be also turned into groups that proactively foster and enhance the BIG V. These are just a few practical ways through which, even rural schools, with some goodwill and some little support, could come up with their own “service and learning” curricula and offer a much better learning experience for their students.

The theme of this year’s International Volunteering Day could not better represent the potential of youths in harnessing the BIG V: “Together, act now”. If schools help their children in “acting together, now”, even in the simplest and smallest ways, then their students can really become agents of change by embracing positive behaviors, especially those driven by values like cooperation, humility, empathy and altruism.

Last but not the least, let’s remind ourselves that countries with greater degrees of active citizenship are more likely to face less corruption besides having more equitable economic growth and other positive aspects. In short, promoting the BIG V among students won’t just help local communities to be better and be more inclusive but will also enable students to start “learn democracy by practicing democracy”. Few more reasons for which it is worth-investing in schools and turning them into BIG V hubs.

Sushil Adhikari, Subhasan Bhattarai and Simone Galimberti are the co-founders of ‘The Good Leadership, Good for You and Good for the Society.