As I wrote in my previous post, the pill to prevent the “pain of others,” i.e. dropping out of school, is volunteerism provided through youth social services, and especially by the relatively privileged young people whose education and future are guaranteed.
This idea is not new, and the region already offers many very interesting examples. Among them are “Mentores Solidarios” in Nicaragua and “Parceiros Voluntarios” in Brazil. Both demonstrate the two main challenges facing volunteer initiatives in our countries: organizing and professionalizing the management of such efforts. These examples demonstrate good practices, but they have not been scaled.
In fact, none of these initiatives has reached a “tipping point“, which is the title of a classic book by Malcolm Gladwell that I recommend. In line with Gladwell’s ideas, volunteering must turn into an epidemic in which our young people are “Patient Zero.”
There already are mini-epidemics―some new, some not so new―that illustrate my point.
1. One is the epidemic of the movement called “Enseña,” or “Teaching”. Beginning with the release of “Enseña Chile” in 2008, these adaptations of Teach for America, an exceptional example of social innovation and social volunteerism, have spread to Peru, Argentina (where it is called “Enseñá por Argentina”) Brazil, and Colombia. As told to me by my friend Alvaro Henzler― the brain and the heart of Enseña Perú―the young people involved have a “great sense of responsibility, and also of urgency.”
2. In Mexico’s Conafe, an old epidemic continues. Last month I visited this program that the government of Mexico has been carrying out for many years to promote youth volunteerism in rural areas. In one place, far from the nearest secondary school, I heard a 14-year-old boy recite an excellent history of graffiti as his teacher, another boy of just 21 years, listened on with pride.
Returning to Gradwell, we must ask: What can be done to deliberately start a benign epidemic of volunteerism in education? This goal is urgent for the present, but also for the future, since the young volunteers of today will be our ministers of education tomorrow.