Our son Nikhil, a grade 12 student, applied for a position as a volunteer at the local hospital this year. The aim of joining the volunteer team at the hospital was to have a firsthand feel of the hospital environment as he intends to pursue a career in the medical field. Volunteering would give him a chance to explore different occupations in the hospital and he would be exposed to a wide range of health care workers, from front line nursing and medical staff to program administrators. He would get to know the people, challenges and rewards involved and gain a better understanding of the roles and jobs available.
It was also intended to help him manage his time better. Statistics show that students who work or volunteer are better time managers and fare better in the universities. Volunteering would provide him chance to meet new people and through them expand his network, opening up new opportunities. It would also facilitate him to use the French language he had improved with a one month stay in France. It would also provide him a chance to find out how other people viewed him and his strengths.
Nikhil was called for an interview by the volunteer coordinator at the hospital and motivated with the above factors, he faced the interview. The last question he was asked was about the difference between a job and a volunteer position. Nikhil answered “there is no difference at all except that there is no burden of pay being a volunteer.”
Nikhil this year was also hired by the Mississauga City to be a swimming instructor and a life guard at the swimming pool. This job he got after volunteering as an assistant instructor at the pool for an year. To be a swimming instructor one got to be a certified lifeguard by the National Lifeguard Service. The certification involves about twelve levels of swimmer training and a swimming instructor course. Further one got to be certified in first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by the Canadian Red Cross and also be certified in child psychology. All these certifications are valid for only a two year period after which he has to recertify in all.
In many provinces of Canada and US, forty hours of community service is mandatory for graduating from high school. Nikhil had already completed this requisite as he had volunteered at the pool for over 100 hours. The purpose of the community involvement requirement is to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities. This also gives the kids the opportunity for new experiences, whether it be visiting a senior-citizens’ home, volunteering in a hospital or working in the library.
Students who engage in community service have many opportunities for personal growth. They gain exposure to people and experiences that broaden awareness and understanding of the world around them. Most kids learn new skills in these situations and work with people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles. This is often the first time some of them have worked for a boss, and it is helpful in learning how to follow orders on the job.
One of the biggest problem students face in school is lack of motivation. Many students are unable to fathom the gap between the curriculum and their everyday lives. Community service provides an opportunity to apply academic learning to real human needs and to make the knowledge gained usable. This would motivate a child to research further into the subject being taught.
Studies indicate that students who volunteer have demonstrated improvement in positive feelings and mental health, and have helped them to reduce depression and stress. Many students feel that it is ‘cool’ to volunteer and many flaunt their volunteer T-Shirts in the school. Many students have reported an increased sense of social responsibility, and a subsequent desire to “give back” to their communities. This attitude help create social capital, that is, social networks of trust and cooperation.
Most well paying jobs in the health related fields in North America is regulated and the licensing procedure is applicable to both immigrants and the North American students. This is mainly applicable to doctors, pharmacists and nurses. The licensing test consists of a written and a practical element and covers all real-life scenarios encountered in the profession. Most Canadian students are well versed with the system as they undergo on the job training, mostly as volunteers and thus qualify these tests with much ease. The immigrants find it pretty difficult as they are not well versed with the North American system and also they have learnt many an incorrect practices back home. The only way to learn the North American system is to volunteer and obtain some experience.
Most hospitals have over 500 volunteers on their role and some have even over a thousand. There is a long waitlist of people who want to enrol as volunteers. They are high school students and retirees; they are the veterans from the Canadian forces; they are university students, young professionals and seasoned executives. Some have an interest in health care, some are considering a medical profession, while others have spent much time in hospitals recuperating from some serious illness or accidents. To enrol into the volunteers corps at a hospital as a student, one got to get two recommendations from the teachers (not easy to come by) and after the interview with the volunteer coordinator undergo a medical examinations, mainly to ensure that they are not carriers of any communicable disease.
In North America one needs experience to get a job and the best way for gaining experience and showcasing one’s talents and skill is only through volunteering. This not only looks good on the resume, the recommendations by the supervisors at the volunteering organisation would also give one a better chance of getting the job. Volunteering is the only way a new immigrant can gain US/Canadian experience and many immigrants are reluctant to take up a volunteering position as it does not pay or there is no burden of pay.