As someone who just finished high school a few months ago, my school seemed like a protective save haven from the decays of the society just right outside the grounds of the school.
A typical day for a student consists attending school, joining extracurricular activities at school, going home and/or hanging out with school friends. Some may join clubs or activities outside school, but most of time it’s within the same social class and community. Even as we are living in a developing country, if you had attended my school, you would see that most were oblivious of what occurred outside their bubble.
The following will be a post discussing my opinion regarding the implementation of community service at my school (which I hope is applicable to your school too).
I started to really notice the lack of initiation and community service aura during my last few years at school. For the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program (a two-year educational program for students aged 16-19), all students are required to form part of a CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) aka Community Service activity or program.
This activity is, of course, meant to be accomplished outside class hours. I pursued my own project: “The World of Silence”. The previous year I had founded what was back then called the Sign Language Club, but I wanted to take it to a next step, thus implementing it as part of a CAS activity option. Of course, during the club meetings it was mainly learning sign language and its linguistics, and a bit about the deaf culture and community in Peru. But the ultimate purpose was to raise the awareness of a practically non-existent language in Peru.
That’s why, in the course of these last 2 years of school, I also promoted the language in assemblies (e.g. in Peace Week), merged sign language and singing with the school choir, initiated a 2nd grade program so these young students could also learn sign language and meet deaf students, and hosted the first student-led workshop at my school to inspire students from other schools to learn sign language.
All of these projects made me force myself to step out of my cocoon to advocate for a social cause, even though oftentimes I was on the verge of breakdowns because of how often I had to step on stage. It was highly rewarding for myself because I was the first to bring sign language into schools in Peru, but it was nevertheless incredibly hard to reach out to everyone. My efforts enabled me to realize how ‘community service’ actually rolls in schools (at least in this country).
The Illusion of Community Service
When students choose a community service program (out of those that do care), many naturally choose the ones they think they will find most ‘gratifying’. For my promotion, we were offered a few different options: creating crafts out of recycled paper, volunteering at an orphanage or an illness institute (I think), and the sign language club.
Two years of CAS, once per week, is remotely enough for anyone to truly know how it feels like to actually do community service. The sign language club that I carried out was a means for me to do all the other activities and projects that actually felt meaningful, and to help my classmates understand the language and hopefully prove to be helpful in the future; but this also made it hard for me to connect with my classmates that were only in the club to learn sign language, and not to understand the importance of the language for the deaf community.
The other students in my prom that volunteered at the orphanage or institute had other experiences, of course. They played with orphans and took care of sick children. That obviously left a deeper impression in their minds, because they felt like they were actually doing a service to them, without actually stepping further and helping their social and/or economic situation improve. I don’t think anyone in my prom continued with their projects once they were out of school, because it was just ‘part of the IB program’.
So, what exactly is community service?
Is it devoting your Saturday mornings volunteering at the local hospital, taking care of sick patients and the elderly? Building houses for the poor? Planting trees to make some areas more ‘environmentally friendly’?
CAS at my school was meant to be more than just community service. The program wants students to use their creativity to initiate social action voluntarily for the service of community, and learn from it. I tried to adhere to this meaning while carrying out the World of Silence, but it’s hard to believe that all my classmates even cared about what CAS stood for.
The rigidity of the CAS program and the poor incentives given to initiation at my school were factors that contribute to this careless mentality at my school. Most students were more preoccupied with their IB courses to even bother putting that extra effort to initiate a social action activity – joining one was enough for them.
Being part of a bigger whole. Feeling like you’re ‘contributing’ to a good cause without investing your brain and efforts into it. That’s what I feel is the main motivation for many people. When you choose a group to volunteer for, you immediately look at what you feel will be most meaningful. This will most likely be related to the environment (recycling), poverty (building houses, giving food), children (playing with orphans or sick children)
When it comes to traveling to poorer provinces and building wooden houses, it’s a massive hit here. I know that many students, from other schools also, devote their weekends to this action. It’s productive, it feels productive, and there are actually organizations organizing these events. So when you join one of them, you can actually say to yourself “I’m part of this organization. I’m doing some
But it is rarely about aiding the communities and groups that are ignored the most in this society – the disabled (mentally and/or physically), for instance, They’re a minority in every society, but it seems that in order for people to be inspired with a benevolent aura in them, they need to be somehow ‘connected’ to them in some way. For instance, while carrying out my sign language projects, I was often asked “Do you have a deaf relative/friend?” and “Why are you doing this?”. Since when is community service a question? You don’t ask someone why they build houses for the poor – you just go along with it. So why can’t sign language be considered as something that we just do?
Because it isn’t. Comparing the disabled community to the poor/sick community is like comparing the racial minority to the white population. There’s too many of the poor/sick in every society, and too few of the disabled for us to mind them. They have to initiate their own fight for the awareness of their own existence, and unless you’re directly involved with them in some way, you’ll most likely steer clear from them.
How and when will this change?