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Volunteer work is an essential part of educational programs

While the country faces a number of security threats, the best form of defence is through investment in human security. Investing in what one might call human security, such as education, would ultimately be more effective. This is especially true given that the largest demographic group in the country is 15- to 24-year-olds, and they will have to make their way in an ever more globalised world. This investment in education does require money but more so, innovative ideas which require less of brick and mortar but produce better human beings. One of the ways to achieve this is through introducing mandatory volunteer work at the undergraduate level universities. This mandatory volunteerism is as urgently needed as donating blood and planting trees if the problems facing Pakistan are to be addressed.

Volunteer work is an immensely positive practice in developed countries where community service is highly appreciated and given due consideration while giving jobs and awarding scholarships. Mostly, community service or volunteer work is administered and facilitated by private organizations but is also encouraged by the educational institutes through the student unions and societies. For instance, it is very common for students to spend a day in cleaning a beach or park voluntarily. Sometimes, they even pay a few bucks to get them registered for this activity. This idea may seem quite meaningless to us to spend money on travel and registration while offering services voluntarily but is meaningfully translated into reality by the students in developed countries where students are mostly, assigned mandatory community service hours during their academic programs.

In the US, undergraduate students are involved in a number of activities such as spending time with the residents of old houses, managing the environment, counselling the victims of violence and abuse, running awareness campaigns, distributing food items to the homeless, donating items, assisting the donors, facilitating the disabled, working for presidential campaigns, delivering lectures at schools and conducting workshops. One example is the “global guide” programme, under which international students and scholars are trained and invited to share aspects of their native cultures with American school students. Pupils not only learn about different cultures but are also exposed to concepts such as climate change, sustainable lifestyles, cultural diversity, alternative social norms and measures of economic growth and development. Everybody gains from participating in this experience of sharing knowledge and skills.

Making community service an essential part of educational programs can help us cope up with multiple issues. Firstly, it will not only help develop civic sense among youth and produce effective, responsible and well-aware individuals; but also help tackle false ego related personality problems such as indifference, insensitivity and arrogance. Secondly, it will not only help eradicate poverty and corruption but also give opportunities to effectively utilize the human resource, promote education and awareness for all and curb the menace of domestic and social violence. Thirdly, it will help manage disasters and natural calamities.  Lastly, it will help channelize the energies of the youth available on social media around the clock; and consequently produce well-groomed individuals equipped with leadership and problem solving skills. By all means, it is a “win-win” strategy.

We do have organizations for community service and student bodies for projects on university level. Recently, it has been endeavoured to clean Karachi voluntarily. Similarly, the efforts of students in organizing events and seminars at universities are significantly commendable. Master Ayub, a volunteer teacher, who has taught thousands of poor students in a park in Islamabadfor over thirty years too is an immensely noteworthy example in this regard. But the issue is that not everyone participates in community service and not everyone considers it a responsibility; therefore, we need to develop a culture where students are given small community service projects as part of their academic programs while professionals are also encouraged to participate.

Quite a few universities in Pakistan have a community service department but it should be implemented as a unified plan in all the educational institutes. Curriculum developers should pay considerable attention to volunteer work; while, government, The Higher Education Commission and educational institutes should facilitate it morally and financially. In this way, we will surely be able to produce professionals equipped with 21st century skills and citizens better aware of their rights and duties.

Source: The Nation

Byline: Mehvish Riaz & Dr. Abdur Rehman

December 21, 2016

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