Salam alaikum,

Volunteering tends to be focused on environmental action as it’s easiest to do – however, this often means more complex issues like overcoming racism get left behind. As we approach the first anniversary of the Mosque Attacks in Christchurch, it is worth considering what you, as a volunteer, can do to help end racism and create a more friendly, welcoming and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand. Between the Coronavirus, President Trump, Minister Shane Jones criticising the Indian community, and our own mass-shooting here in New Zealand, racism, discrimination and xenophobia (dislike of people from other countries) has increased lately. As a volunteer, I’m keen to do something about it, so here are my top tips:

Be the best version of yourself. I often speak about the importance of being the ‘best version of ourselves’. Personally, that means closely considering how my thoughts, words and actions impact the people around me; how I can be a leader by saying (or not saying) something. I find the best way to confront racism isn’t by calling a person racist, but by asking them questions about why they think what they do, and gently unpacking their views. Often when people are asked to explain their thinking it leads to them understand the harm they are causing.

Stand up for others. Everyone deserves to live their lives happily and free from intolerance. If you see someone who is being bullied or picked on for any reason, try to stand up for them and support them. This doesn’t only apply locally – people across the world face discrimination every day. The UN Human Rights Office suggests a three step approach: Promote, Engage and Reflect. For more information and ways to take action, visit standup4humanrights.org.

Organise a class or after school discussion It is sometimes easy to overlook other cultures and minorities as part of a majority group. This can lead to people not being able to fully express their cultural identity. By organising a discussion about the different ethnicities and cultures in your community and thinking about how you can hold space for them to live their life how they would most like to, you and your classmates can really effectively work to dismantle inequalities faced by ethnic and cultural groups.

Organise a guest speaker from a local Mosque to share their experience with your class – it may seem obvious but there is no one more qualified to speak about a religion than someone that practices that religion themselves. Regardless of your personal religion and beliefs, it is super valuable to learn from others about their beliefs.

Offer to volunteer with a refugee settlement programme or centre As you read this, people and families are being displaced from their homes around the world as a result of conflict, bad governments and climate change. To come to an unfamiliar country where you don’t know anyone and your language isn’t spoken must be frightening – but volunteers can make the world of difference. Could you be that friendly face? To get started, find your local volunteering centre.

We would like to give a special mention to students at Te Kura Māori o Ngā Tapuwae in Auckland who have volunteered their time to share cultural experiences and support their local muslim community – a great example of how volunteering can create a more friendly and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand. Remember: all of the above can count towards your next SVA Service Award level, so be sure to log those hours! On behalf of the SVA team, we’re really grateful for your help in advancing this really important issue. 

Kia kaha,

Sam Johnson and the SVA Service Award Team