Recognising shared humanity through service

Katina Grigoraskos

With the global pandemic came the opportunity for people to look outside of themselves – and to give to a cause greater than themselves. Historically, humans have rarely all been in the same proverbial boat. The current state of our world has opened up more opportunities for service, empathy and understanding among fellow human beings.

According to the IB CAS guide, Service should be “a voluntary exchange that has a learning benefit for the student. The rights, dignity and autonomy of all those involved are respected”, and we are seeing this need more now than ever before.

Service begins within

Where students might be used to going out and engaging in service activities, beach-cleanups and the like, the current situation has helped students to truly understand the meaning of service in a deeper way, and one that hits closer to home. Students often look elsewhere or have to travel far, but in this case, they can consider the needs of their inner circles and immediate communities. Students are encouraged to think about what small actions they can take to help, or give back, and how they might contribute to the people in closest proximity to them.

Students can explore what local opportunities there are to serve, and think about how they can be helpful from a safe distance. For instance, they could create healthy meal programmes for elderly neighbours, and cook and deliver meals to them to ensure safety and accessibility. They might set up a dog walking service for elderly neighbors, or think of other ways to support them by calling them, or sending virtual videos/cards.  Students might create their own 30 days of service programmes or service challenges with friends or the school community. In Thailand, ‘giving pantries’ were set up in local neighborhoods, where people could donate canned food or water for people who needed it.

Service shows us how connected we are

Technology can provide the tools needed to communicate a cause and generate support for people or places that need it. Students can create websites to fundraise, or make videos to spread awareness about social distancing and being socially responsible. They can create inspirational videos with messages of hope to share with the global community.

They can also offer their skills by offering free online lessons to teach a language or skill to people who need it. Alternatively, they can create a YouTube channel for language learning lessons or tutoring ESL. Their videos can also support parents or teachers who are at home with kids. This might take the form of book read-alouds, sing-a-longs, online concerts, or exercise videos, and this could also count as the Creativity part of CAS. Apps like Be My Eyes give people the chance to give help from a distance to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Another idea is for students to create a ‘balance’ presentation or video to support online learning, reminding fellow students to take breaks, sharing helpful stretches and postures, or other relevant information like avoiding eye strain. They might even create a guide to self-care, or a self-care regimen, an important practice to maintain wellbeing during tough times. If they have family or friends abroad, they can brainstorm ways in which they might offer support from a distance.

Service teaches us about gratitude

An element of service involves gratitude and appreciation, and these are important values we should be instilling in our students. We can encourage students to show appreciation or thank health care workers who are working very hard and taking big risks during this time. They can send messages of support, words of encouragement, or medical supplies/masks. One fifteen-year-old raised over 13,000 dollars from donating his own hand-carved wooden flags for first responders, homeless veterans and children with special needs.

Service is leading by example

Sharing examples with students can often serve as inspiration for them to feel empowered and willingly engage with a cause. As the global pandemic continues, we see many examples from around the world of caring teenagers putting efforts together to make a difference in their communities. This shows us that no one is too young to take action and make a big difference in changing the world. There were many examples of high school students who set up delivery services to deliver care packages, groceries or medicine to the elderly and other vulnerable populations. One nursing home allowed individuals to adopt grandparents who were lonely during isolation. Canadians started a ‘caremongering campaign’ to “spread kindness like a virus”. Such groups posted on social media about offering to help, or people with needs posted in search of a specific service.

The more we teach students through our own examples and the examples of others, the more they can be inspired to lead by example. It is through these actions that they develop caring and compassionate attitudes towards others, which is the ultimate aim of the IB Diploma Programme and IB Learner Profile.

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Dr. Katina Grigoraskos is the IBDP CAS & Events Coordinator and IBDP TOK Coordinator at Wells International School in Bangkok, Thailand. With ten years of international teaching experience and a PsyD in Human & Organizational Psychology, she is also an instructional facilitator for European International University’s Master of Education programme and a workshop leader at teacher conferences in the Asia-Pacific region.

You can read part one in this series, which focuses on Creativity, here. And you can read part two, which focuses on Activity, here.

Looking to learn more about how you can support your IB students with CAS? Our student guide is accessible and practical, offering advice and guidance on how to select a suitable CAS activity and how to approach the task: from planning and time management to what makes a successful and positive CAS experience. This resource is also helpful for CAS Coordinators and those involved in planning student CAS projects in their school.