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Hands-On Global Citizenship: Lessons from a Volunteer Fair

Written by Stephanie Lynn Edwards, Global Schools Advocate from Spain

In 2019, a high school student insightfully suggested to me, "Education should be more focused on experiences that a global citizen must or might go through, rather than learning constantly about how to be a global citizen." He and his classmates were participating in a series of workshops I was conducting as part of my master's thesis on Global Citizenship Education. The students were familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda but expressed frustration over limited practical opportunities for action. 

In the spring of 2022, the year I joined as a teacher at Torrequebrada International College (CIT) in Málaga, a conducted survey amongst our secondary students revealed a similar sentiment. Despite having our own experiential curriculum and holding various charity events, none of the 50% of students who showed interest in the 2030 Agenda felt they were actively contributing to meaningful change. Based on these results, it was clear further action was needed to empower our learners and champion for students to perceive that they are the protagonists of positive, impactful transformations.

The following autumn saw several changes, both for myself and our school. We began a whole school approach to incorporating Education for Sustainability (ESD) into the curriculum. I also became a Global Schools Advocate in addition to our school's Sustainability Coordinator. We knew that we needed to move beyond teaching content, so one of my objectives became transforming our curriculum to create active changemakers. Our first priority was to show the students what was available to them in the community where they lived. After all, global citizenship starts in one's own community. From this first goal, the concept of our Volunteer Fair was born. 

The Volunteer Fair would be an event managed by students where organizations could showcase their actions in our area and offer advice and opportunities for youth involvement. The only costs we would incur during the process came from hosting our visitors for lunch and printing a few well-placed posters and flyers. The fair's objectives were attainable, and the impact was visible. 

Organizing the Volunteer Fair

Our Volunteer Fair aimed to bridge local community issues with global goals, educate students on actionable ideas, and foster student leadership in project management. I'm happy to share how we organized it in order to inspire fellow educators and advocates who want to ignite change in their school communities. Here are the steps we followed:  

1. Planning

We chose a date, venue, and timeline, ensuring enough time for student training and preparation. It was also necessary to understand exactly what materials and sizes of tables we could offer organizations participating in the event. 

2. Student Involvement

We welcomed all interested students to join our regular meetings, held every few weeks. These students became the core members of our Volunteer Club. In our first meeting, we introduced the project and organized the students into five groups. Each group corresponded to one of the Five P's of Sustainability: Planet, Peace, People, Prosperity, and Partnership. Their task was to identify local issues connected to their specific 'P.'

From the second meeting, the focus shifted to research. Students were tasked with identifying local organizations, or the local chapters of larger entities, actively engaged in community betterment in the areas identified during their brainstorming. Each group was expected to compile a list of at least four such organizations and then prioritize their top two choices for further engagement. Students chose large, international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in addition to smaller, local NGOs. Some of the objectives of these organizations included environmental clean-ups, forestation efforts, animal shelters, helping the elderly, cancer awareness, volunteering in children's hospitals, soup kitchens, and providing materials for people who suffer from food or housing insecurity.

3. Outreach

For this task, we engaged our middle school students. They required training in professional communication, including making phone calls and writing emails, as well as understanding the logistics of the event space and resources available to the participating organizations. I coached the students on these skills in smaller groups during breaks and short meetings after school. This process was time-intensive and required practice, but it was crucial that the invitations to the organizations were personally extended by the students who had identified them. This approach ensured that the organizations selected were those genuinely favored by the students and essential for the event. What's more, the skills the students gained through this process has served as a foundation for leadership and project management skills that they may use to carry out their own initiatives in the future.

We had eight participating NGOs in total, which included larger organizations such as the Red Cross, Spanish Association Against Cancer, and the Gea Volunteer Association, as well as local organizations that carry out actions related to caring for the elderly, such as Harena, or Adintre, an association dedicated towards helping people suffering from food and housing insecurity. 

4. Promotion

Upon receiving confirmation from the NGOs, we launched a promotional campaign. This included designing posters, sending emails, and holding an assembly for all secondary students. During the assembly, we emphasized the significance of community volunteering and introduced the questions that students would use to connect the NGOs' work with the SDGs. We also provided details about a follow-up project the students could engage in after the fair.

5. Execution

On the day of the event, student volunteers were assigned shifts and responsibilities. They welcomed NGO representatives, assisted with their setup, and guided classes to the Volunteer Fair, among other tasks. Additionally, we invited our elementary students to experience the fair, enriching the event's reach and impact within our school community.

6. Follow-up Project

Students had the option to engage in volunteer activities as an alternative to final exams, requiring them to reflect on their experiences and link them to the SDGs. They could either collaborate with an organization or design their own activity. Students needed to submit a signed witness statement and evidence of their activity, along with a reflection form. This form asked them to contemplate the skills they used, particularly focusing on collaboration, and to connect their learning experience with the different Goals. 

The Impact Created 

Seeing the Volunteer Fair come to fruition was the most rewarding moment of that academic year for me as a teacher. We hosted eight organizations at our event, and the student engagement was remarkable. Visitors noted the insightful questions and honest curiosity of the students both at the fair and during presentations. However, the truly meaningful experience as our school's Sustainability Coordinator was reviewing the students' volunteer projects post-event. Over 120 secondary students opted to complete the volunteer project with actions such as beach clean-ups, tree planting, organizing food pantries, dog walking at shelters, and committing to long-term volunteer work at a residence center. It was a proud moment to read the insightful reflections of some of these empowered students that transformed into active global citizens when they realized that they, too, could make a difference. 


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