This is a guest blog post from our ONE Youth Ambassador, Dannee McGuire.
Young people aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow – they’re making huge changes to the world around them, right now. Whether it’s through social media or ‘hashtag’ activism, writing online or in their paper about a cause, or taking part in a protest, there are many ways that young people can ‘be the change’ and make a difference to the world.
Many young people volunteer in some way these days. It’s not just for adding experience to your CV – whether it’s a teaching or sports project, to animals and conservation work, to a hospice or a community centre, you can make a real difference!
Usually, the more local you can volunteer, or the more focused the action point, the better! Volunteering abroad can often be a great experience, and definitely life changing, but ‘voluntourism‘ projects aimed for young people aren’t always the best way to help communities. To start with, focus on how you can help your local area or a cause within your country.
2. Write to your political representative
MPs want to hear from their constituents and what they’re interested in – that’s their job! However, they can’t tackle poverty or climate change singlehandedly – what they really want is to know what they can personally do about it. Write to them, or even ask for a meeting with them, and show them what you think they should be focusing on.
3. Use online platforms to reach others
There’s never been a greater time in history for reaching out to millions of people around the world. You’ve probably seen how a single Twitter hashtag can create massive social awareness. What hashtags can you contribute to, or even create?
If longer writing is more your thing, writing for an online portal like Huffington Post is a great place to start. You can write blogs and original content for HuffPo to reach new audiences, and if it’s featured then you could see your article reaching thousands of people.
4. Giving other young people a role
One of the best ways you can make a difference is to inspire others to join you. Not only are you teaching other young people about important issues, but you’re encouraging them to teach others too. That’s one reason why many charities and organisations have resources for young people who want to get involved as an ambassador for their cause. But you can do the same thing! Maybe you want to launch a campaign on raising awareness of a social issue, for example, but you need help to do everything. If you can create a team to join you, by giving everyone a role as an ambassador and a change agent, you’re helping them to put their own ideas into reality and make a much wider difference.
5. Think out of the box
Why do videos, campaigns, or pictures go viral? Normally a big reason behind this is because it’s something not many people will have seen before, which makes it ‘shareable’. By finding a way to make a difference in a completely unique way, you can find ways to reach entirely new audiences.
6. Join ONE in the fight for girls’ education
With 130 million girls out of school world wide, we knew we’d have to do something! Join our latest campaign and tell world leaders to #FundEducation.
Want to see how young people are changing the world right NOW? Follow #ONEYouth17 to see what our Youth Ambassadors and ONE Champions are up to at the 4th annual ONE Summit!
Youth can often have the lower hand when it comes to translating social issues they are passionate about into actionable change. We feel we are too young to be taken seriously, have little experience, or don’t know how to take the first step.
The matter of the fact is, you are never too young or inexperienced to start making a difference in the community. Below are some small but powerful activities you can easily integrate into your student life:
Volunteering allows you to work on an issue you care deeply about. Some students see volunteering as a chore: something you have to do to pave way for job opportunities. However, volunteering for a cause you are passionate about can become truly rewarding and educating.
Seek out opportunities through your school, online listings, and personal connections. Don’t see any ‘vacancies’? Actively reach out to organizations and express interest in learning from them and helping out. Most would be happy to benefit from a passionate volunteer, and some may have opportunities specifically for youth, such as a Youth Advisory Committee.
Here at the YWCA, we have volunteer opportunities year round, even for students. Mentor a Grade 7 girl or boy, or assist with another Program or Service.
Integrate Social Change into Your School Projects
Should you have the freedom to decide how to structure a school project, choose to design something that benefits your community. Plan and launch a PSA campaign on anti-bullying, make a poster that educates others about homelessness, or organize an event with motivational speakers.
Don’t hesitate to contact like-minded organizations that may be willing to help promote your project, or even partner with you to provide resources.
Host a Fundraiser to benefit a local charity
Have a birthday party or holiday celebration coming up? Ask guests to bring items to donate to your charity of choice instead of presents, or set up a donation box for small change. It can make a difference! Check out tips on how to How to Throw a Benefit Party and pay it forward here.
These students at a local school sold hand-made beanies to benefit the YWCA Crabtree Corner. Amazing!
Seek out Experienced Adult Mentors
A mature adult with experience whose work evolves around the issue you care about can act as a mentor to help you grow as a young activist. They act as a role model who can often inform you about opportunities, introduce you to others, and support your aspirations.
A mentor could be a teacher, professor or a family friend; anyone, really! Establish that relationship, ask for monthly meetings where you can attend events together or meet for a chat, and grow together. Your school could also have mentorship programs you can apply for, as do community organizations like the YWCA.
We have several mentorship programs for High School Students, Aboriginal girls, and new graduates.
Show up to show you care; strive to be an active citizen
It can be intimating to show up at an event surrounded by experienced professionals, and you may not feel you mean much since you have little work experience or expertise.
The good news is that at community events, “young people have [a] distinct advantage...they stand out in the usual crowd of adults;” politicians, policy-makers, and local business leaders often like to hear from the younger generation, so your presence and voice will certainly be valued. It is in you to take that step to write to a local newspaper, testify at a city council meeting, or show up at public dialogue events. It acts as a learning experience for you as well to become more educated on the social issue. Ask friends or a mentor to attend with you if you are uncomfortable with showing up alone.
Have little time for the above activities? Donations to a charity always help to sustain operations that support a cause. If you want to help the YWCA support low-income women and their families, click here.