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ISASA schools link up with Community Hours

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY SARAH WELTON-BLAKE

The powerful concept of volunteering so often comes neatly packaged with its equally powerful yet unwelcome relative called negativity.

I don’t have time,’ ‘I don’t know where to go,’ ‘there is nothing which interests me’ and even worse, ‘I will just get someone to say I volunteered and sign my letter and be done with it.’ (In order to pass matric, South African learners have to be able to prove they have done a minimum of 10 hours of community service as part of the life orientation (LO) curriculum. From 2019, the minimum requirement increased to 20 hours from Grade 10 to matric.) Over the years Community Hours has met with people with diverse views around social investment and community engagement, with some people seeing this as a ‘grudge purchase’. Over the past four years, we have worked tirelessly to find and even create volunteering opportunities that are age-appropriate, engaging, and in the most positive sense, even addictive. Community Hours is driven by a need to ignite and sustain the conversation and participation linked to volunteerism, and we are motivated by the results we are tracking in this regard.

Community hours links learners to organisations

Over the past four years, we have collaborated with an increasing number of schools, both traditional and modern. We remain agile and continue to develop our platform in line with the needs of our partner schools seeing the engagement from users increase as a result. The young, motivated volunteers with whom we have worked, have collectively impacted almost 310 000 hours of community service, which equates to 36 years of community engagement. We live in exciting times. It has often been said that ‘it won’t matter if it can’t be measured’ which is, in essence, a truism, especially in the volunteering space linked to school objectives and LO requirements. Learners are required to track and monitor their engagement in respect of social cohesion, and in so doing, they gain insights into the impact of their actions. In the digital and television space, a problem can be presented to and solved for the viewer in just 45 minutes. In reality though, we remind volunteers, it is important to create realistic views of the longterm need for ongoing engagement around the question of volunteerism and, more specifically, around sustainable volunteerism. The ‘seagull approach’ of flying in, delivering a momentary solution, crowing loudly and flying out offers no meaningful engagement for either the volunteer or the people or organisation that should benefit from the self-congratulatory result of this approach.

Tracking time served

We understand the increasing pressures on educators to not ‘only’ come to teach; but to be involved with extramural activities, to support learners in after-school lessons and to attend meetings, often for the sake of meetings, frequently sees a distancing from what are commonly perceived as ‘soft tasks.’ Community engagement unfortunately often falls into this category. We provide a gateway for learners, educators and school management, offering introductions to large numbers of organisations which welcome and value volunteers. We assist teachers by providing a platform from which reports can be drawn, and understandings can be gleaned. Such management tools support both internal (school-related service) as well as external (‘in the field’) volunteering, and are the rationale behind the Community Hours concept. The Community Hours platform assists each unique learner to establish volunteering opportunities, provides introductions to the conduit person at the organisation, posts the volunteering engagement, and verifies and accredits each logged volunteering hour. In so doing, Community Hours assists learners to measure their personal social engagement, helps to track ‘required service hours’ as set out by the national curriculum and by individual schools, and facilitates the drawing up of reports and creation of certificates for submission in support of their volunteerism. In order for educators and staff managing school outreach or community engagement programmes to swiftly and efficiently understand the investment of time committed by individual learners, the programme is designed to compile reports by grade, by class, by tutor group, by house and a number of different search criteria. Schools are able to identify top achievers by the same criteria, and are able to establish the volunteering appetite to the top volunteering organisations as supported by the learners.

True transformation

Sometimes, the true measure of developing and evolving concepts lies in the unintended consequences that manifest. It is heart-warming to see how groups of young volunteers, often from different schools and from different personal means collaborate to achieve common objectives. Problem-solving becomes an extension of situational circumstances. It is uplifting to see families come together, even if only for short moments in time, put down their devices and talk and laugh and work together in the volunteering space. It is astounding to acknowledge that real-life learning takes place in such engaging ways, for example in environmental volunteering projects where the management of invasive species and plant identification is a byproduct of volunteering action. Other volunteers come to understand the impact of recycling when they make and distribute vegetable boxes crafted from pallets. We observe renewed respect shown to the numbers of ‘side-of-the-road entrepreneurs’ who toil daily to sell their recycled crafts. Volunteers are delighted to participate in activities which require them to convert disused tyres into chairs, which transform otherwise barren playgrounds into more colourful and effective spaces. This generation of youth volunteers, frequently referred to as Generation Z, have spent most of their lives with a device in their hands. The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest of the current school-going learners were probably about 10 years old means that many of this generation could swipe almost before they could talk. They have lived an ‘on-demand life’, where access to data is a constant defining moment. However, while research being conducted into behavioural shifts and the consequential impact on attitudes and lifestyles is ongoing, the consensus seems to indicate that active volunteering increases perceptions of self-worth while striving for variations of social cohesion.

Witnessing the ‘aha’ moment

What we hope to achieve is that volunteering becomes an extension of self. We want young people to seek out and create meaningful and unique ways to volunteer. Inspiring tomorrow’s leaders to do better and be better everyday. To be privileged to witness the ‘aha’ moment when volunteers do find ‘the thing’ that inspires them; that is the joy of being a part of a programme which drives youth volunteering.

Sarah Welton-Blake is the ‘Wizard of Lightbulb Moments’ and chief innovations officer at Community Hours. Contact her at sarah@communityhours.co.za. See: https://www.communityhourssa.co.za/

Category: Autumn 2020

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