Positive Purpose through Outreach
How many times have you been asked the question ‘what do you do?’ It is a staple of small-talk the world over. However, perhaps a more interesting question to be asked – and to think about – is ‘what gives you purpose?’ The answer to both questions may of course be the same but they may be quite different.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helpfully articulates what we need in order to flourish as human beings. At the basic level we need food and water, a roof over our heads and we need to feel safe. However, we need more than those basic conditions to be truly happy. We need to belong, to love and be loved and we need self-esteem – a feeling of accomplishment. It is only at this point that we can aspire to achieve the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy – that of self-actualisation – a conviction that we are achieving our full potential.
I have had the privilege of being involved across many areas of College life but probably the most personally fulfilling, giving me a real sense of positive purpose, has been my closer involvement in Outreach this year, helping to support and co-ordinate the huge raft of activity which happens in Prep, Senior School and Sixth Form, under the dynamic leadership of Miss Donaldson, Ms Church and Mr Fuller, respectively. Service to others is without question embedded in the DNA of MCM; ‘compassion’ is after all one of our beloved ‘3 Cs’ and so it is inspiring to hear from both Sohana in L6 and Yasmin in U6 how their involvement in Outreach has given them both a sense of purpose and importantly, perspective, particularly during the recent lockdown. This is reinforced in the contribution from Ms Church in which she speaks of transformative experiences, such as involvement in Outreach, actually changing what matters to you. This is really powerful and I think that it has never been more apparent, particularly over these last few extraordinary months as we have witnessed the economic impact of Covid 19 begin to bite and the MCM community stepping up to help.
So, as you read these contributions, can I challenge you to reflect on where you find your own sense of positive purpose. Some of you may be very clear about it and are enjoying the sense of accomplishment and self-actualisation Maslow described. Others may not even have thought about it as I hadn’t until quite recently. For many, involvement in Outreach activity will provide it and the beauty is that everyone involved benefits. What is not to like about that?
Chair of Charities Committee, MCM
Outreach does impact on our Wellbeing
As the Italian friar, Saint Francis of Assisi famously said:
“For it is in giving that we receive.”
We all know that when we help others we do get a good feeling; a sense of pride or satisfaction, maybe an alleviation of guilt. In that sense, is anything ever truly altruistic? Does it matter if the end result is positive for both the helper and the receiver of the help? It is undoubtedly true that emotionally and psychologically we benefit from the act of giving to others. This is now borne out in scientific research: helping others to regulate their emotions predicted better emotional and cognitive outcomes for those participants who were giving the help. See the link below for more information on this. Furthermore, in helping others and looking beyond ourselves and our own needs, we develop a sense of purpose, which is integral to our own wellbeing and positive sense of self.
Outreach at MCM certainly provides many opportunities to improve our own wellbeing. We have transitioned from a branch of the College that responds fiscally to the needs of others, to a small army of volunteers that are prepared, not only to help financially, but practically too. In providing opportunities to engage with our local community and respond to real-life issues, the potential to create significantly transformative experiences increases.
A transformative experience is one that somehow alters what matters to you and in the context of Outreach, this positive shift happens within oneself however you engage in the Outreach experience, as provider or recipient. The transformative experience instils in us a value for and drive to contribute to our society in positive and meaningful ways. The transformative experience deepens our understanding of what it is to help others and accept help. We have no idea what the future holds for us individually; we have no idea when we will need to rely on the support of others. Experiencing first hand the benefit of helping others and cultivating that part of our ego that needs to connect and be useful, helps us to value the benefit of supporting and being supported.
As Head of Outreach I have seen MCM pupils grow in confidence, emotionally, spiritually and academically the more they engage in our activities. I see it in their capacity to find and use their voice; in their ability to persuade others to participate and rally the troops; in their developing communication skills; their sensitivity to the shy or less able person; and ultimately in their collaborative and leadership skills. I see the same young people sign up and engage in this work time and time again because they have had that ‘eureka!’ moment, which connects them to the joy and benefit of working with others and engaging in a community project.
Some of our regular volunteers are MCM gold, our dynamic leaders – the ones gifted in many areas, who sign up for everything – but many are not. Most are not seeking thanks or recognition but they see the experience as a reward in itself, a way to release those positive endorphins that others might get from sport, academic achievement or meaningful social time. These young people will find the time again and again to support this work because in the moment and on reflection the experience is just as exciting, challenging, nerve-wracking, rewarding, social and fun as team sports, the World Scholars’ Cup or a school production.
It is wonderful that in helping others we can help ourselves. We might be able to alleviate our stresses and worries about the state of the world. We might be able to develop new skills. We might be able to pull down boundaries and improve our understanding of communities different to our own. There are countless ways that in serving others we benefit ourselves, our sense of purpose, our mental health. Try to find the time to do something for others over the summer and see for yourself. Outreach has many opportunities for the coming academic year; we hope that you will sign up.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits to oneself in helping others please see this article.
Head of Senior School Outreach
How Outreach helps Wellbeing
In the midst of online lessons, the restricted movement order and days that seem to stretch endlessly, it can be really difficult to feel grounded. Attending classes when your bed is right next to you or the kitchen so close, you can smell the chicken curry your mum is making, can be distracting. However, Yasmin and I have found ways to stay connected and purposeful through Outreach – not only to help others but also ourselves.
I (Sohana) held a book sale during half term to raise funds for the Cahaya Surya Bakti food drive for Rohingya refugees during these trying times. This opportunity to participate in the ‘virtual fundraising’ initiative promoted by the Outreach team at MCM, provided a chance for pupils to take a lead and grow in confidence and character, when many of our usual opportunities have been restricted. Especially when given the stress of the IB curriculum, giving to others can help your mental and physical health. Not only do these experiences keep one mentally stimulated but they provide a sense of purpose. One that is undoubtedly needed in these trying times, as it is easy to lose our sense of purpose. Moreover, experiences such as organising events, enable pupils to learn new skills and teach lifelong lessons that will continue to guide one through future life choices.
Whenever MCM hosts a picnic for local orphanages, the two activities the children look forward to the most are swimming and climbing – these are the activities that they have no chance to participate in outside of MCM due to lack of resources and tools. Observing the children begging to swim despite the lightning alarm or daring to climb the wall for the fifth time in a row allowed us to recognize the privilege that we have. It is easy for us to swim or climb – always a mere few steps away. However, for the children, it is a rare occasion that they treasure forever, always asking us to promise that they can come again. This has led us volunteers to feel incredibly grateful for the privilege we have and therefore recognize the positivity in our lives instead of the negativity.
Outreach is a paradigm through which positive engagement can take place – from building positive relationships to making positive contributions to the lives of others and environment. Whenever the children visit the school, no matter where they are headed, if they see a volunteer they know, they will always wave and greet us. Aside from new relationships with the children, volunteers also build stronger friendships with each other. Moments spent together planning party games, sourcing art materials or worrying whether we have enough food have certainly taught us the different ways to collaborate, communicate and converse.
Outreach is an embodiment of MCM’s core values – the 3Cs that stand for compassion, conversation, and companionship. These are the values that contribute significantly to our wellbeing and will enable us to be leaders of the future generation. The values that we manifest while engaging in charitable events are values that should guide us for the rest of our lives.
We know that happiness is a cornerstone of wellbeing, along with having a sense of purpose. It is not always easy to cite a moment in time when we are truly happy. For us we are lucky, as we can pinpoint this moment in our Outreach experiences.
Yasmin Abdul Razak, U6 & Sohana Jethnani, L6
Stock photograph used from previous Outreach activity (2018)