Modern life is increasingly digitised, and with the advent of social media, some have expressed concerns about today’s youth prioritising online presence over “real-life” connections. Despite this, many youngsters defy those stereotypes and make waves in their communities. Claudia Cojocea speaks to Stella Bianchi, a Doha-based year 12 student who has been harnessing her passion for social change.
C: Firstly, what motivates you?
S: I would say that the biggest motive for me is a desire to contribute to the betterment of the community. I want to be part of a community that prioritises and cares for the well-being of all its members and the environment. This has inspired me to take the initiative to create change. There are so many ways we can improve, and I believe that many issues must be addressed. For example, people struggle to balance their work and school lives with their personal and social lives. This has a negative impact on their mental well-being. I have witnessed this through the people around me and experienced it myself, which has motivated me to create a project to promote self-care and a balanced lifestyle. I am also very aware of the climate crisis. This has motivated me to educate people on the importance of looking after the environment and making more sustainable decisions.
C: I could see from your volunteering work that you lead with your own ideas. How do you generally come up with them and put them to action?
S: I usually find a group of people to brainstorm and discuss ideas with. I always set up a leadership team when conducting my projects so that plenty of ideas can be carried through. Additionally, I like to do some research online to find examples to inspire me. I also think it’s important to involve the entire community when brainstorming. For Sustainability Week and Well-being Month, I created many surveys to send out to my community at school to receive feedback and ideas for activities and events.
C: I’d like to go back in time and find out more about how you got started. When did you discover your passion for community well-being, and how important is it now for you to contribute?
S: I discovered my passion for community well-being after my first few experiences as a volunteer. I have always been passionate about helping people. When I was around 12, I joined a service program at my school and discovered how much I enjoyed service work, especially when it was related to the community. At 13, I created my first well-being project. It involved educating my school community about physical health and included various activities such as wellness walks.
C: And how long have you been in Qatar? Is it easy to get involved in these activities here?
S: I’ve lived in Qatar for most of my life, and I consider it my home. I would say that it has always been easy for me to get involved in service actions, as people such as my parents and teachers have always been supportive. I have always been encouraged by others to create new projects and have received help from those around me when organising activities and events.
C: What are the benefits of volunteering, and how do they impact your life?
S: Volunteering has many benefits, and it has had a significant positive impact on my life. It provides me with a sense of purpose—I have a goal to work towards. It also gives me a sense of community as it helps me feel a connection with the people that I am helping.
Furthermore, I am able to make new friends and meet new people. I have met many people that I would not have met if I had not participated in service projects. These projects have strengthened a lot of my friendships. I have also developed many skills through volunteering, including social and communication skills, as I have had to meet and communicate with a lot of new people and have also had to do some public speaking. I have always struggled with public speaking, but volunteering has helped me overcome this obstacle. I have also developed leadership and organisational skills by creating and organising my own service projects, as I have had to take the initiative with planning and have had to supervise volunteers. Another huge benefit is that volunteering improves self-esteem. It makes me feel a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment, which boosts my confidence. Lastly, volunteering is fun in general, and it’s a great activity that helps me focus my energy on being helpful.
C: What is the biggest life lesson you have learnt from your projects?
S: The biggest life lesson I have learnt is the importance of taking things one step at a time. It can be really stressful to start up and organise big projects, and you need a lot of planning and patience. Planning may take weeks or even months, which can be overwhelming, but the end result is always worth it. You may not see huge results immediately, but every little thing you do matters.
C: Getting involved in social causes can expose us to very sensitive parts of life like poverty, injustice, and neglect. Still, we end up learning things about ourselves we didn’t know before. Has this happened to you?
S: Yes. I realised that I should improve my behaviour and lifestyle just as much as the rest of the community. As mentioned, I have focused a lot on environmental sustainability and well-being projects, which have led me to rethink my own life and choices. I have learned that I need to take the things I am advocating for to heart and reshape my own behaviour when it comes to things like acting sustainably and doing more self-care to prevent anxiety and burn-out.
C: What message would you like to send to other teenagers who might be more interested in spending time on social media than engaging with their communities? What can you say to arouse their interest in social causes?
S: Although there are many ways to spend our time and energy (like being on social media), volunteering can also be very fun. It is a fulfilling use of that time and energy, and it not only benefits us as individuals but also our communities. It leads to the overall betterment of our world. Through our actions, we can inspire future generations to advance our society for the better.
Expert Volunteering Tips
Bosco Menezes, the founder of the local community outreach initiative #bigbmeetup, shares his top volunteering tips for people of all ages.
1- Find your interests.
2- Research local organisations and determine what skills you can offer. Popular ones include Qatar Charity, Education Above All, and Red Crescent. You can also do something different and support animal charities like PAWS and QAWS (Bosco’s favourites!).
3- Consider starting your own project. Acts like distributing meals to the underprivileged or visiting the sick and elderly in the hospital also count.
Bosco believes that volunteering can benefit kids and teens as it helps with building character and developing a sense of gratitude. It can also be a way to make friends. So, if you or your child are looking to do a good deed and possibly meet new people, these tips might be the inspiration you need to get started.