Home Features Columnists Student Volunteering: Are We Lazy, or Do We Really Make A Difference?

Student Volunteering: Are We Lazy, or Do We Really Make A Difference?


Following Student Volunteering Week, Kayley Gilbert asks if young people do give back to the community more than is often portrayed by the media and older generations.

As part of Student Volunteering Week, which took place at the end of last month, the Exeter Student’s Guild celebrated Good Deed’s Day on Monday 24 February. Student Volunteering Week is an annual nationwide celebration traditionally run in spring, now in its thirteenth year. The week aims to encourage students all over the country to get involved through volunteering and helping others.

This got me thinking about the levels of student volunteers. Are the youth of today really as lazy as we are often portrayed by older generations, or do we give back to the community just as much as others? Having been involved in different small scale volunteering opportunities, I’m leaning more towards the latter idea there.

At the end of the day, volunteering is extremely rewarding. If you want to take the cynical view, yes some kinds of volunteering do give you experience in the work place that may help you get a job somewhere down the line. And that might be one reason why some students volunteer, but student volunteering week is about giving back into the community.

Even though it’s on a small scale, I’ve been involved in volunteering both within the University and in the local community of Exeter. Being involved in student-staff committees as a representative of fellow students, I have been able to witness and be a part of implementing changes to solve problems for present and future students. This is really rewarding, especially when you are able to see the changes and the positive effect they have on the experience of students at the university.

Getting stuck in with ways to better university life for all students and giving back to the university in general is really fulfilling. As part of volunteering week there are loads of opportunities available to all students to get involved. With the History society, a bunch of students re-painted St. Sidwell’s Community Centre café. Knowing that we were giving something back to the community, and helping out others was really gratifying, it was also quite fun. Even though this is on a small scale, only reaching as far as the local community, volunteering really does give you a buzz and a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that you are giving back for the benefit of others. Especially when you see the look on the face of someone you’ve helped, and can see just how grateful they are.

Even giving back in this small way, I have seen the help that it gives others and their immense appreciation of any help. Volunteering isn’t just for you, a student, to help you get that perfect job, it’s about getting involved in the local area and doing something good for others. These two minor examples of volunteering also show just how easy it is to get into, and that you don’t have to do something huge or life altering to get involved.

Of course there are also loads of opportunities to go further with groups volunteering in countries as far off as Uganda and Kenya to help out those less fortunate, but you don’t have to go abroad to volunteer. I know so many people who love to volunteer, with friends going abroad to Africa and Asia to help teach children English, construct playgrounds and schools, and others volunteering in local charity shops and libraries, so surely students are just as involved in volunteering as other sectors of society!?

When most people think about good deeds or giving to charity, they think of donating money. In this respect, Britain as a country is one of the top developed countries in the world, according to CAF, with 76 per cent of British people giving to good causes in a typical month, making the UK the sixth most charitable nation in the world.

However, the British Civic Core report showed that the majority of the time and money donated to good causes in Britain comes from just 9 per cent of the population, while nearly one in four give little or nothing. So, just 9 per cent of people give 66 per cent of the time and money donated in Britain. Plus, of those that give, 33 per cent are likely to be pensioners. As people get older, they are more likely to give, according to this survey, a pattern that has been seen in previous studies. Those under the age of twenty-four are much less likely to give, with fewer than 39 percent donating to good causes compared with 65 per cent of pensioners. The younger age group are being left behind.

With the over-60s now more than twice as likely to give to charity as the under-30s, what does the future hold for charities and fundraising? Why do the younger generation not give as much money and help than those a generation or more above them? Is it that they don’t want to? Or that they cannot afford it?

With tuition fees rising and jobs becoming ever more competitive, whether you’re wanting to be the newest television reporter or are just looking for a Saturday job in Tesco’s, pennies are increasingly tight for students (even tighter than they were before, and they were already pretty tight). So it’s more the case that students cannot afford to donate to a good cause. Though that doesn’t mean that the younger generation don’t want to give, or are any less generous than the elder generation, even if today’s youth have been tarnished with that brush.

Although the younger generation may be less likely to donate money, that’s not the only thing that can be of value to charitable or other organisations. According to the survey, the British are also becoming more generous with their time. Volunteering levels rose by 3 per cent from last year, to 29 per cent. Moreover, the biggest increase in volunteering has occurred amongst 15-24 year olds since 2011. Students have gone from being the least likely to volunteer in 2008, to the second most likely to volunteer in 2012.

So even if students may not be the most financially giving, we still give a lot of time to others through volunteering. This can be seen widely in universities with the range and diversity of volunteering options that are on offer. The volunteering group Community Action are one of the biggest societies on the Exeter campus, showing just how willing young people are to get involved in helping the local and wider community.

From Community Action being involved in the local area organising trips for young careers, providing support for sixth form students and working with elderly patients, to RAG sending eight students to Uganda to build playgrounds for children across the country this summer, Exeter is full of students willing to give their time and effort for the benefit of others. Non-fundraising societies, university wide, are also getting involved in Student Volunteering Week, encouraging students to get up to their elbows in paint to give a community centre a fresh look, have a go at weeding, digging and raking the community gardens, and getting immersed in the elderly population of Exeter to bring light to someone else’s day.

The willingness of students to give can also be seen in the recent developments in the neck and nominate craze. Once downing a pint got rather out of hand, the craze began to sprout in new directions. Recently, people from all over the world have transformed Nek Nominations into Rak Nominations (random act of kindness nominations for those of you less-clued-up) after a South African man uses his Nek Nomination to reduce poverty in his local area.

The huge response that has come out of this is shown by the popularity of Rak Nominations Facebook page, set up on 3 February, it now has over 14,000 likes. The YouTube video of this South African man’s own interpretation of his nomination now has over 700,000 hits, so it seems like the message is getting through. People from all over the world are joining in, donating food and drink to the homeless, buying flowers for strangers and some even donating blood for the benefit of others, for the benefit of strangers.

Not only does the level of popularity and the distance this new craze has spread show how a younger generation are willing to give, but also does the fact that the craze developed from a display of drinking to acts of kindness. The stereotyped ideas of today’s students and the younger generation as more drunk, dangerous and lazy than generations gone before are surely disjointed when taking into account this and the levels of volunteering, good deeds and charity work that young people do, not only in Exeter, but all over the country.

So, even though it may be on a small scale or in unusual and maybe rather odd forms, it’s clear that many students really do go out of their way to give charitably, even if it’s their time rather than money they give. There will always be some that only volunteer to get on the job ladder or to get a better job some day in the future. But many students today volunteer to make the community what the community has made them: happy.

 ‘You make a living from what you get. You make a life from what you give’ – Churchill

Kayley Gilbert

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