Article by Claire Morgan Busher (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Ancient History, Archaeology and Latin)
This summer, I was forced out of my comfort zone – here’s what I learned…!
I have been an outsider in all the countries I have lived; ever the foreigner, the one learning to adapt and assimilate into cultures, rarely having a large social group, particularly not one of people my own age. My brief attempts at volunteering for the SPCA as a youth were disappointing as I was not trusted to do anything meaningful and simply gave up after a while. The social isolation presumably propelled me further into the insular world of academia – after all, measuring your achievements against your own grades is easier to do as a loner than most other kinds of success. Thus, in this summer’s project, I was both forced out of my comfort zone and to reflect on what was lacking in my own adolescence.
I was partnered with “Localise”, an organisation that seeks to promote volunteering in the local area to young people. Localise runs various programmes designed to facilitate voluntary engagement – some projects are run inside schools, in class time (which as you may imagine, shows how valued this organisation is by many principals around Dublin), while others are run by “community groups” – effectively social groups who meet with the purpose of volunteering in their community. In interviewing different adults who had either volunteered with Localise as adolescents or who are doing so now, as adults overseeing the youth groups, I put together a report about how Localise has a positive impact on the community and the young people who interact with it.
Yes, I do realise how biased this all sounds..! I had a fair degree of self-doubt through this process – surely, my research might only confirm the claims Localise would have been able to make before I came along to “verify” them through these testimonials? Yet, this was one of the first times in my life that I have truly believed in my work – after all, how can something intended to make people act positively for the benefit of others be a bad idea? I was simply gathering some personal views of how this is beneficial to those who are being altruistic.
The biggest takeaway I can share with you (aside from quite how much can be said in a 20-minute interview – I regretted my listening skills when it came time to transcribe…) was that we are on the brink of many societal issues coming to breaking point, if not already in the depths of a mental health crisis. There seems to be too much theorising about mental health, and too little practical mitigation happening in general – the standard response that most people are ingrained with now, to suggest therapy, is not very helpful with those too poor, too young, or too isolated, to avail of it. What we might consider saying instead would be something along the lines of “what would you like your impact to be?”
Giving young adolescents, who are more depressed than ever in our strange new world of technical advancement and societal regression, the chance to do something might be profoundly impact the way they see themselves and their place in the world. What these groups of youth volunteers achieve, regardless how large or small scope of each project is, cannot be termed insignificant – when they believe they have had a positive effect on someone else’s life, through seeking to help in this way, they can take pride in their achievements and feel empowered.
Looking back, I regret all the chances I missed to help others in my adolescence, and how low my self-confidence was. I think this was linked to not having any socially acceptable outlet for my attempts at altruism; growing up with the mantra of “stranger danger”, spontaneous acts of charity were not encouraged. I think that while such confidence might have lessened the pressure on me to over-achieve academically, it would have helped in me in my personal life more than my short-lived pride at an A on a test ever has. I would have developed the confidence needed to thrive in social settings at 13 or 14 instead of 21 or 22 – a big difference when you consider all that becomes permissible once someone reaches the watershed of entering adulthood. I look sideways at Localise and admire their ethos – their aims are so simple, yet perhaps, needed now more than ever, in our isolating, over-complicated world!