About a million years ago, I was a high school student in Ontario, Canada. It was a prerequisite for us to accumulate 40 hours of community service in order to graduate. This can seem like an eternity to a teenager but, spread over four years, it really did not take much effort. Critics of this requirement would argue that community service shouldn’t be mandatory but rather should be a personal choice. I beg to differ. The community service I participated in taught me so much about myself and really revealed a passion I had for volunteering.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. I struggled with my first placement and found myself out of my depth, under skilled and overwhelmed working with teens and adults with special needs. It is important that we support our students through their community service and help them find opportunities that not only challenge them, but also inspire them. By the end of my first volunteer placement, I was discouraged. It felt like just another thing I had to fulfill at school.
Then I learned about a program in my neighbourhood that deployed volunteers to work in the community to help fix fences, paint, walk dogs, cut grass and various other jobs that people were in need of help to complete. I discovered this program would only take volunteers 16 years or older. Again, I felt discouraged. However, one of my teachers spoke to the organiser and worked out a system that allowed our high school students to participate in the program.
It is important to help our students create opportunities in community service. Sometimes we live in a culture of ‘no’ because it hasn’t been done before. This can be disheartening for people who really want to help. I am a firm believer that just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done now.
My passion for volunteering grew from there and has taken me to more than thirteen countries to work in disaster zones, development projects, children advocacy movements, building sites, retirement homes, environmental programs and conservation awareness to name a few. Volunteering builds a sense of self and purpose that motivates me.
At THS, our student volunteer organisation called VOICE of the children have worked with refugees, the homeless, seniors, helpers and street cleaners. This ties us to the community we live in.
I have learned leadership skills, team diplomacy, collaboration, resilience and resourcefulness. I could probably figure out how to build you a house if you needed one. If not a house, definitely a shed. I have learned to use tools from a chainsaw to sledge hammer under the careful coaching of trained professionals. The same skills people learn through costly programs and courses that sometimes do not always cultivate an ongoing passion can be learned from a commitment to a good cause.
When we encourage our students to work in the community, we help build a sense of belonging. Some of us are visitors here, but we should all be invested in the well being of the community. Ap Lei Chau has become my home; I run down these streets, shop in the local stores, do my laundry here and interact with the community daily. Carving in community service to our week will only further connect us to this neighbourhood that has so graciously welcomed us into their lives. So, are you ready THS high schoolers?