If you’re feeling a bit unsure about how to get your pupils involved in a community action project, look no further. It’s not all about litter picks and cake sales!
Many schools running the Young Leaders Award encourage their pupils to collect litter or organise a cake sale to raise money for charity as part of their community action project, perhaps because these are the most familiar forms of social action for many of us. While there is nothing wrong with either of these activities, there is also much more to social action, and lots of other ways in which children and young people can play an active and positive role in the community, often without even having to leave the classroom.
Raising awareness of an issue is often overlooked as form of community action but it’s perhaps even more accessible to children and young people than fundraising or volunteering. Raising awareness of social or environmental issues is also great way to develop children’s communication skills and creativity while channelling their natural passion for combatting the injustices they see around them.
Raising awareness can take many forms, from writing targeted letters to people in positions of power, to creative campaigns to get your message across to the wider public. This could be through posters, leaflets, videos or even a protest song.
A great example of a young campaigner raising awareness of issues close to her heart is Bella Lack from East Sussex who is a growing voice in the environmental movement. As a child, she wrote letters to Sir David Attenborough about the devastation that palm oil was causing and how it was endangering the lives of orangutans. At 16 she started a petition to ban wild animal acts in circuses, collecting 200,000 signatures. The Wild Animals in Circuses bill became law within a year. She is now an ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, RSPCA and the Jane Goodall Institute and delivered a TEDx talk in Brighton in 2019.
Another young campaigner who began raising awareness of birds and their important role in the eco-system when she was still at primary school by setting up a bird-watching club for her peers, is Mya-Rose Craig. At the age of 13, Mya-Rose, who is British Bangadeshi, also started Black2Nature with her mother to bring minority ethnic young people to the countryside for weekends to learn about farming, birding, bird ringing and the value of being in the natural world.
Now, aged 18, Mya-Rose (aka Birdgirl on social media) is the youngest British person to have received an honorary doctorate and is an international wildlife and environmental champion. She also wants to see diverse voices heard when it comes to the fight against climate change and has recently written a book called ‘We Have A Dream’ to amplify the voices of indigenous activists and environmentalists of colour.
Finally, demonstrating the power of an effective awareness raising campaign to challenge perceptions and assumptions, is London teenager Shiden Tekle. Shiden and his friends worked with coaches at the Advocacy Academy who asked them what they most wanted to change about the world they lived in. Having suffered racism from a young age, they all agreed they wanted to recreate famous movie posters as they were frustrated by the lack of black actors in films and TV and felt they never saw any positive representations of black people.
The posters were originally only intended for the bedroom walls of Tekle and his friends, but an advertising organisation spotted the posters online and loved the idea so decided to printout 6ft versions of the posters and placed them in bus stop billboards around Brixton, south London.
The Young Leaders Award provides lots of opportunities for pupils to develop the leadership skills and character attributes they need to become successful campaigners like Bella, Mya-Rose and Shiden. We’d encourage schools taking part in the Award to look beyond, and to think about the issues their pupils might want to raise awareness of. You never know, they might surprise you.