Technology is often blamed for making our world more individualistic and there is a popular belief that Millennials and those coming up behind them are increasingly self-centred and unaware of the challenges facing others. But, according to data from the World Gallup Poll, there has been a significant rise in youth volunteering in a number of OECD countries in recent years with nfpSynergy, the London-based charity consultancy, reporting that 16-24-year-olds are the most likely to volunteer.
As the world celebrates International Charity Day this month to coincide with the anniversary of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s passing on September 5, 1997, a significant number of students are volunteering their time and skills, whatever they may be, for the greater good. But while volunteering is generally recognised as an act of generosity, it also has indisputable benefits for the volunteer, particularly during adolescence when self-absorption is considered to be at its peak. Though this may seem self-serving, recognising the mutual nature of the experience ensures balance and a healthy degree of humility as volunteers accept that those receiving their help and support have much to teach them too.
The benefits come in various guises. For example, exposure to a varied and often unfamiliar set of circumstances fosters empathy, open-mindedness and tolerance while difficult situations in themselves draw on personal resources such as initiative and resilience. A team spirit is also engendered as volunteers acknowledge and rely on the strengths of their colleagues when tackling challenging issues. And as the volunteer becomes aware of his potential to make a difference, however small – a recent study by Telefonica shows that 62% of Millennials believe they can effect change in their own communities while 40% think their efforts can have an impact at a global level – solid self-esteem is built.
King’s College began to nurture charitable initiatives early in its 50-year history. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the late head Christopher Leech took advantage of the existing culture of solidarity between staff and students to seriously weave social responsibility programs into the fabric of the school as well as ensuring that the thousands of euros raised at the annual Summer Fair went to causes beyond the school’s boundaries. Again, this was for mutual benefit. As the school’s current CEO, Elena Benito, says of the students, “I don’t want someone who can only read maths at Oxford. I want someone who is sensitive to what goes on in the world.”
In 2004, after donating €26,000 to Ayuda en Acción, students from King’s went out to volunteer at the charity’s Casas de los Niños project. And in 2008, after volunteering at the Fundación de Ayuda Infantil in Mexico, former students Sofia Rademaker and Ana Ortega reported: “The families who gave us shelter could not have treated us better. It was amazing how people gave everything even when they had barely anything.” King’s College Moraleja, Murcia, Alicante and Panama all now have their own Summer, Winter and Spring Fairs and support a number of charities of their choice with the house system helping to spur the students on to reach their fundraising goals.
Nyumbani became a favourite charity at King’s thanks to induction teacher Izabella Hearn, a highly valued member of staff during the 1980s and 1990s who introduced the Kenya-based sustainable HIV/AIDS community to the school. Since then, several King’s alumni have gone out to volunteer. Lee Golding, who attended the school in the 1990s, raised €3,000 for the charity and taught at the Nyumbani Village school during his 20s. “We can’t give these children their parents back,” he wrote in a diary at the time. “But we can take one significant life-changing issue off their plates, that of quality secondary education which will help them reach their fullest potential.”
Several years ago, a group of students from King’s College Madrid went along to see what happens with the money King’s raised for the HIV-1 Molecular Epidemiology laboratory at the University Hospital of Ramón y Caja in Madrid. Talking to Doctora África Holguín about the visit, she recalls that the students showed a great deal of interest in the research. “Good things are getting done in this country with regard to scientific investigation and it is great for them to see that,” she says.
King’s students have also participated in the initiative Walk for Water, a sponsored hike carrying rucksacks filled with litres of water in sympathy with children in Kenya who, at a very young age, are carrying large jerry cans home from a well that is often located at the bottom of a steep hill. In Panama, it is the Clayton orphanage next door that provides the main focus for the students’ humanitarian activities. Most of the proceeds from their March Fair and Halloween bake go towards supporting the home where around 40 children are cared for by an elderly lady. But there is also a hands-on approach.
“Each year we set a project with her; we’ve renovated a classroom, painted the outside of the building and one day our senior children did an extreme make-over of the garden together with the marines,” says former Head Vanessa Whay, who coincides with Elena Benito when it comes to educating students in the business of solidarity. “Our children are the ones who will become doctors and lawyers and presidents and I want to know that if I’m lying on a gurney having had open-heart surgery, the person operating on me has good moral values,” she explains.
Growing up, students with experience in volunteering and charity work are more likely to be attracted to companies with strong corporate social responsibility programs. According to Cone Research, two thirds of Millennials won’t even consider taking a job that does not espouse such values and 90% say they do a better job in a socially responsible environment and feel far greater loyalty to their employer. Consequently, more companies, such as Deloitte, Telefónica, Iberia – and of course King’s College – have adopted such practices, which hopefully means that, contrary to popular belief, we are working towards a less self-centred and increasingly aware world.