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Event - 1998-08-26
Wednesday, 1998, August 26
Globe and Mail

Teaching young people the benefits of volunteerism early in life, at school and at home is a concrete means of combating the seemingly overwhelming social problems the world faces entering the new millenium, an international conference was told yesterday.

"The real challenge for us all is to find ways to broaden and strengthen voluntary effort into the next century," Princess Zahra Aga Khan told the 15th biennial meeting of the International Association for Volunteer Effort.

"Socializing young people to see voluntary service as an important part of everyday life is the key, and providing models, opportunities, programs and appropriate incentives are the means."

Princess Zahra, who is the co-ordinator of social development with the Aga Khan Development Network, based in Aiglemont, France, cited the philosophy of the Ismaili religion as a model for building caring, active citizens.

"Young Ismaili children perform volunteer tasks…(at community centres) serving water, collecting and looking after coats and the like, which require no professional knowledge, but which introduce, at an early age, the ethos of volunteerism," she said. And as young people grow up, academically and professionally, so do their voluntary tasks, and the contributions become second nature.

"The ethic of service of others is thus inculcated early and works to broaden the individual’s experience in relating harmoniously to society," Princess Zahra said.

Robert Goodwin, head of the Washington-based Points of Light Foundation, said community service - mandated and otherwise - is increasingly part of the curriculum of U.S. schools.

"The notion of service learning is that young people can develop broader insight about the value of service and there can be a compliment between the laboratory experience of working in the community along with the theoretical exposure in the classroom," he said.

Mr. Goodwin said that, in many ways, volunteerism can serve as an antidote to secularism, materialism and other "toxic influences" that bombard young people today.

"We have to have some counteracting influences in society or the breakdown, the social trauma we are experiencing in so many communities will continue….Understanding that we are bound to one another, that we have far more to share in common than things that separate us, is a value that is learned through service," he said.

Krishan Joshee, chairman of the Edmonton-based Wild Rose Foundation, agreed that caring and service have far too long been taken for granted and a greater effort must be made to teach these values.

"I think we have to encourage a little more compassion and society has to understand that students in the school have a broader responsibility to society," he said.

Mr. Joshee, who taught school for 27 years, said he opposes mandated community service, but he said young people will do their part if they have role models and the positive reinforcement for good deeds. He criticized the media for their failure to report good news. "When somebody steals a pencil or a piece of cake or something it is at the forefront of the newspapers, but when they do much good they are not even mentioned," Mr. Joshee said.

More than 2,700 delegates from 86 countries have come to Edmonton for the I.A.V.E. conference.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Jean Chretien told them that, after long taking them for granted, governments are beginning to realize the value of volunteers and charitable groups not only in delivering programs but in forging social policies. He told volunteers they are, "a well that this government wants to draw on more deeply…from this bedrock of Canadian caring and giving."

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