Mandela Day, community service and volunteerism is all about human dignity. We need to teach our children about human dignity, which includes respecting other people, appreciating what you have and that others don’t necessarily have as much as you do. I really believe it’s beholden on us as parents to share and to care for other people: to share what we have and to care for them with our time and our skills.

The term community service is usually used in relation to punishment in the justice system. What we are talking about here should really be referred to as volunteerism or active citizenship. While Mandela Day calls for citizens to do 67 minutes of service to uplift their communities once a year in honour of Nelson Mandela, the goal is really to bring up young people who contribute regularly to society throughout the year.

You can listen to a podcast of my Radio 702 interview on the topic at the end of this blog.

At what age do children start community service?

Volunteerism is part of the education curriculum primarily for the grade 10 -12 age group, 15 years and up, although many schools encourage their learners to get involved from grade 8 onwards.

Is it part of the curriculum?

Community service is part of the Life Orientation curriculum. Youngsters need to do between 10 and 100 hours a year, depending on whether they are in government or private schools, whether they are aiming to use the community service hours as part of the Presidents’ Award, and whether they need a lot of hours to apply for leadership positions or bursaries. It can make a big difference. As of 2019 the minimum requirement will increase from 10 to 20 hours from grade 10 to matric.

How seriously is community service taken by educational institutions

  • In order to pass matric learners have to be able to prove they have done a minimum of 10 hours of community service. Many schools are encouraging more.
  • Schools often look at a learner’s community service hours when considering them for leadership positions.
  • Learners who have made an exceptional commitment to community service can now qualify for school colours in certain schools
  • Community service hours are becoming a pre-requisite for learners applying for tertiary education bursaries. In fact creating a social CV documenting volunteering engagements can be extremely helpful as some employers are more likely to employ people who give back to their communities willingly.

What can children do to get their community service hours?

I did a poll of sorts on Vanessa Raphaely’s closed Facebook Community for parents of tweens and teens called The Village. There was incredible feedback from high school parents about what their children were up to:

  • Feeding, walking, washing and playing with dogs and cats in rescue shelters such as the SPCA and many others
  • Using artistic abilities to make gift cards to sell and raise funds for dog and cat food
  • Covering books for the local library
  • Reading to children in container libraries in townships and underprivileged areas
  • Coaching swimming and water polo clinics for disadvantaged schools
  • Serving in soup kitchens
  • Flipping pancakes
  • Making sandwiches
  • Packing food parcels
  • Mucking out stables
  • Building dog kennels
  • Preparing food for carnivores at the zoo
  • Working in homes for handicapped people
  • Tutoring maths
  • Building houses, and so much more

Benefits of community service and volunteerism

  • Broadening perspective so that children get out of the bubble they live in and discover the reality in which many others live
  • Appreciation of what they have and what others don’t. This helps them make comparisons and appreciate that there are inequalities in society
  • Serving and becoming a contributor instead of a taker which is important in a consumeristic, materialistic world
  • Building a sense of community which helps children to get a sense that they are part of something bigger
  • Children can discover what interests them which can open up interests for fields of study and careers
  • Children get hands on experience often physically interacting with the world and getting dirty. As OMO has said for years, and I agree – dirt is good for kids and their holistic development!
  • Some projects can get really big such as the Head Boy of St John’s College a few years back who cleared all unused clothes out of his own and his dad’s cupboards and then asked others from many schools to do the same. 580 tons of clothes were collected and distributed to the underprivileged, valued at R275-million! Young people can literally start a movement.
  • It’s part of a well-rounded education.

Organising community service for your child

Not every charitable organisation is set up to offer community service hours. Learners need to have their hours signed off on pre-prepared forms and preferably stamped so that the school knows that the hours were legitimately served. Some organisations only take children of a certain age, and they can only use a maximum number of volunteers at any given time due to their own manpower constraints.

Some schools that are very community-minded offer community service as an extramural activity and often arrange group outings to communities in need, taking the responsibility off parents’ shoulders.

If you have to make arrangements yourself, one of the easiest ways to do this that best matches the interests of your child, is to visit where legitimate charities list their requirements, children and schools can register, and all reporting is done to the school via the website. Over 6 000 learners are currently registered with this incredible organisation that is doing so much good for the community.

Some families make community service part of their family brand, doing a lot of it together with their children, starting from a very early age. It’s how they do things in their family and it’s awesome. You too, can do progressive parenting in this way.

Ideas for this year’s Mandela Day

If you are looking for ideas of what to do this Mandela Day, do sign up with Community Hours SA and they will send you an email with 67 ideas of what you can do on 18 July 2018.

We should make every day a Mandela Day. Active citizenship is the goal where it is about service above self, being selfless and having a charitable spirit. It is about giving back or paying it forward, whichever way you like to look at it.

Please leave your comments about your child’s community service experience below. And take a listen to my interview on Radio 702s Weekend Breakfast with Phemelo Motene on this topic.