Stories and podcasts WBW Stories Elevating Africa's Youth Through Volunteering In our busy and fast-paced lives, it can often be hard to find a moment of rest or even a moment of silence. We wake up with a full day scheduled ahead of us, and in our hurry from place to place, and task to task, we run the risk of forgetting what we are actually living for. As Mother Theresa once said, “The true meaning of life is helping others, it’s a kind act to assist the fallen”. But it’s so easy to forget this infallible truth. Humans of all ages relish the thrill of achievement and success. The feeling of having success – either as small as finding some money in an old pair of jeans, or large, like winning an award – makes us feel confident, capable, and valuable. Many of us experience this sense of satisfaction most in our professional lives, but across Africa, many young people struggle to find gainful employment, or are given few opportunities in their existing jobs to truly shine. For the unskilled or underskilled young person, the benefits of volunteering - defined as giving one’s time to a worthy cause for free – are multifold: volunteering allows the young person to enjoy that sense of professional satisfaction, coupled with the feeling of knowing that they are contributing to a better, kinder world. Moreover, volunteering allows many young people to develop personal and professional skills that will empower them in current and future employment. Major Economic Challenges Facing African Communities Unemployment: Many African countries lack meaningful infrastructure to employ young people, which creates rampant unemployment in youth demographics Gender Inequality: Men are still viewed as superior to women in social, political, familial and religious frameworks, which limits opportunity for women to work for a living and precludes men from undertaking or appropriately valuing unpaid domestic work Health Instability: Healthcare systems are often costly, underskilled, underresourced, and inaccessible to people lacking money or metropolitan proximity to health centers. Corruption: A lack of Afro-focused innovative initiatives at a governmental level mean that employment opportunities are limited to maintaining the status quo, as opposed to innovating. Diaspora: Many of Africa’s brightest young minds are actively seeking and accepting employment and education opportunities abroad, the result of a self-perpetuating cycle in which lack of investment in educational systems see those smart enough to bolster it move to other parts of the world. Volunteerism and Youth Empowerment: The Solution to Africa’s Needs? Africa is a home to more than 600 million young people between the ages of 18 and 30, many of whom are either unaware or unsympathetic to the potential for volunteering to create personal and societal impact for the better. Some of this indifference can be attributed to cultural misconceptions about charitable engagement, alongside the lack of volunteering programs available to students across all age groups. If education about the sweeping benefits of volunteering was made available to African youth, the scope for impact within communities, towns, and countries could be astronomical. There are thousands of secondary schools and 200 colleges and universities across Africa. If each of these academic institutions were to have a volunteer club that promoted and facilitated volunteerism, young people across Africa would be better-placed to nurture skills to make themselves competitive in the job market, whilst providing a meaningful contribution to their own communities. When someone donates a handful of time to a cause that means something to them, they have the power to directly improve their community for the better, whilst gaining meaningful skills from the experience that they might not otherwise develop. Volunteering facilitates a sense of community, because it brings people together to work towards a common goal. Whether fundraising for research to cure a disease that is prevalent around world, or pooling resources to help a local family that has fallen victim to calamity, volunteers make solutions from suffering. When a person donates their time, they give hope to someone who needs it by saying that their needs are so worthy of fulfilment, no payment is required to lend them support. Altriusm is self-sustaining: a volunteer receives that special feeling of satisfaction from witnessing their contribution make a difference. Not only does this contribute to personal development - especially in areas such as self-fulfilment, self- confidence, and self-esteem – there are professional and economic benefits to this from a purely analytical standpoint. A job applicant with a diverse skill-set, derived from a diverse wealth of compassionate volunteering experiences, not only provides favorable insight into the person’s character, but also into their ability to work hard across a number of tasks and responsibilities. For those seeking meaning to their everyday, the selfless act of volunteering provides a spiritual enhancement as well. Knowing that your own actions can make a direct, positive impact on someone else is an emotionally uplifting experience that cannot be replicated in other contexts. Research indicates that the more we give to others – within the limits of our capacity - the happier we feel. The African Students Volunteer Network was founded in February 2016 to advocate the benefits of volunteer work to college students across Africa, with the express mission of promoting volunteerism in the daily lives of all African Students. We believe that the future of Africa lies in the palms of motivated young people, and that whilst professional opportunities are oftentimes limited for them to create meaningful change in their communities and their countries, volunteering their time can see them prevent professional stagnation. Young people represent a revolutionary new era of African leaders who have the capacity to selflessly elevate Africa on the global stage, but to attain recognition amongst so many other world-class Continents, our leaders must be skilled, compassionate, and smart. What Comes After Volunteering? Volunteering is phenomenal means of mobilizing youth across Africa to seek opportuntiies for constant self-improvement whilst also perpetuating compassion for those more in need. However, it is important to note that volunteering should never be a cost-saving trick for NGOs or governments to save money by making young people work for free when they should be paid. If young people contribute to making Africa better in any professional, social, or political space, they must be acknowledged appropriately for their efforts, which includes remuneration at a rate reflective of their effort, expertise, and insight. Unpaid “internships” or unpaid labor are better summarized in one word: exploitation. When somebody has a skill (or many) that makes them beneficial to an organization or body – particularly when there is a fiscal profit attached – then job-seekers, students, and other such demographics may find themselves being inadvertently exploited by the same systems that challenge them to volunteer to validate their compassion. This kind of self-awareness from such organizations, particularly whilst perpetuating the opposite, is nothing short of a travesty, because it means that they know better, but proceed to take advantage of their volunteers all the same. Volunteering does not exist to make people work for free, but rather to ensure that the skills built early in life can create dividends down the line. Unfortunately, too many young people in Africa today live in economic uncertainty. Their ability to secure gainful employment – and keep it - remains precarious. Accordingly, many young people feel that their perspectives are not reflected in policy, and are therefore not taken seriously even in spaces where they work or volunteer. To ensure this charitable momentum is harnessed, governments and stakeholders in the civil society and private spaces must not only accept contributions from young people, but actively solicit and incentivise these youths to contribute their insights on the needs of those on the frontlines. This will boost youth morale, and ensure that volunteering models remain sustainable even after student or youth volunteers move on to gainful employment. To transform Africa does not require one sole leader. There is strength in unity, and as the old adage goes, two heads are better than one. If Africa’s people all come together and find a collective solution to the problems that our continent is facing - by dedicating their skills to a greater cause – the continent’s wellbeing will be improved rapidly, and for generations to come. But this cannot be accomplished unless young African people are educated from a young age that it is both culturally – and, admittedly, selfishly - to take the front role in helping others. By being selfless and empowering others, there is no limit to their capacity for impact: perhaps young people will be able to combat corruption, starvation, and poverty in our continent. It starts with giving back to the community. It builds towards paid employment. It ends by changing the world. About the Author.