As a college student in the United States, when I was made to volunteer in my locality, I did not easily digest the concept of mandatory community service. My instructor had assigned 10 hours of it in the semester, and I would have traded anything to get out of it.
Only after I had gone through those 10 hours did I understand the value of this exercise.
The idea of volunteering (more commonly called community service in the US) is nothing novel in America and Europe. Americans are convinced that this is an ideal way to provide students with firsthand insight into various community issues and progress toward becoming a contributing member to society.
“The student in real terms gets to know his/her community; it is a great source of joy,’’ said Service Project Coordinator Hannah Finkey, during her introduction of our first community service project.
The 'service' can include a range of tasks: working during disasters or emergency situations, at the local park, Community Centre, school’s dining hall, the local church, Community Child Care Centre or Town Hall.
When my turn came, I found myself labouring at parks, plucking weeds, cleaning boundary lines – stuff I would have never imagined doing in my own locality in Pakistan.
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I wrote appreciation letters to the American troops fighting in conflicted areas, and my heart wept over my actions.
I ended up questioning my patriotism. Why have I never done this for the Pakistan Army, my own soldiers? Why have I never cleaned out my own parks?
The United States has the world’s largest volunteers’ population. The American federal agency, The Corporation for National and Community Service, recruits more than 5 million Americans in its community service projects.
Their mission is to produce a more sufficient, potent and well-trained community; one that is helpful during disasters and orderly in its management of everyday challenges.
Volunteering students can choose to work anywhere; there are countless options, and every educational institute assists students in their service placements. Institutes even pay their students to work for their colony.
|The author with her community service group.|
Besides teaching them to contribute to society, the other long-term objective is to keep vulnerable people from falling prey to social evils like drug and alcohol abuse, violence or other vices born of poverty, etc.
The idea is to foster a sense of ownership from both sides – the individual and the society.
When I came back to Pakistan, it was most saddening to see that we had no such system in place.
We do have a Pakistan Boy Scouts Association and a Pakistan Girls Guide Association but their programmes are short-term, poorly executed affairs, and without a clearly demonstrated strategy. We also have the notion of community service, but just as an alternative for criminals under Probation of Offenders Ordinance 1960.
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I have foraged through the extra-curriculum literature of many Pakistani universities to look for standardised community service administration, but unfortunately found none.
Our institutes do not treat student counseling crucial and as a consequence, our students do not treat civic responsibility as crucial.
Our youth is turning into an insensitive people, indifferent too, because of the heart wrenching problems faced by our country with no means being provided to the youth to fix those.
|The author with her community service group.|
Being engaged in community service, a person is highly motivated to empathise with its community's problems, attain cognition of available resources to use for community needs, understand the system of government and other non-profit organisations functioning for the same cause, this way it can train itself professionally too and earn the benefits of teamwork.
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Pakistan has the world’s largest youth population at about 66 per cent.
Our youth is frustrated, disappointed in the government, losing hope, and in a severe identity crisis.
Our youth is wallowing in drugs and weapons. Every year the rate of suicide causalities continues to creep up.
Every time disaster strikes, our youth visibility fights its on social media, while being restless inside their homes. They are clearly tired of the poor performance of the government during calamities every year.
It is my humble request to the academic institutes of Pakistan to reform their agendas and incorporate the mandatory community service action for every student, in its locality at least, so we can produce a youth with great leadership qualities, strong moral and sustainable, unambiguous character. A trained youth will be extremely resourceful in the course of emergency circumstances, which, unfortunately, Pakistan sees almost every other day.
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Every single academic institute must take the headship to empower our youth, to equip them with a greater appreciation of socio-political and economic encounters through their participation in regular volunteer projects.
We are the future leaders of this country, let us serve it well.