What on earth is... social action?

What on earth is... social action?

Want a career in charity? Pamela Ellis, 21, is a student from the US working with the social action charity Envision – which she loves! Find out how she got involved…


Want a career in charity? Pamela Ellis, 21, is a student from the US working with the social action charity Envision – which she loves! Find out how she got involved…

What is ‘social action’?

“Social action is when a group or individual takes steps to improve or reform an imperfect situation. For example, it could be gathering a group of volunteers to clean up a local park or help out at a community centre, food bank, or other place that assists people. Or spreading awareness and increasing education on issues such as domestic violence and healthy eating.”   

How did you hear about it?

“I joined a club for future teachers at my university. One activity we did was to tutor inner city youths one afternoon a week. I signed up to get some teaching experience but found that I loved helping students who needed extra support in learning. 

“This inspired me to help run an anti-bullying campaign at that same school to teach more practical life lessons and reach a wider audience. I felt I was actually making a difference and promoting a useful message. The students and I had great dialogue and we were able to discuss something that affects their daily life (the school is very violent). I decided to get involved more heavily to help youths improve their communities and keep those important discussions going!” 

Tell us about your social action

“My main responsibility is to facilitate and support the students’ projects. I do this by contacting community members by phone and email, typing up schedules and session notes, and going to school sessions and events. I am in one or two schools almost every day, helping the students brainstorm and solidify their ideas so they can plan and coordinate what they need to do to get their projects off the ground. 

“I make sure everyone is paying attention and contributing to the projects so they all feel involved. The projects are all their ideas – I just offer some structure, behind-the-scenes organisation and occasional suggestions.”

What are the best bits about doing social action?

“I love going to schools and interacting with the students – they're full of energy and great ideas and it's a pleasure to be around such dedication and positivity! Every time a group takes a major step – such as finalising the itinerary or task list for the event day, making successful contact with community leaders or fundraising – I feel genuinely proud and can tell they're proud too. Seeing the students smiling, laughing, communicating and working together during the ice breakers and planning processes make all of the office work worth it!”

What subjects did you love at school?

“I loved English, psychology and sociology and started taking education classes at university. All of these relate to what I am doing now! I use English when I write up notes and emails and for general communication skills. Psychology and sociology help me to pay closer attention to how the students are speaking and acting and also to react better to conflicts. My education classes have been helpful in organising session plans and keeping the group focused. 

“I never liked maths – thankfully I don't need anything beyond arithmetic now! Volunteering as a tutor and helping run the anti-bullying campaign has given me experience dealing with young people, especially those from inner city schools. I worked at a non-profit – Wellesley College for Women – last summer, which has given me a background in research and data entry.”

What training or courses did you do to get involved in social action?

“I took courses in education and adolescent psychology to learn how teenage minds work and the best ways to get them to learn, focus and retain the information. The training here has been mostly informal – in the first couple of weeks I followed my supervisor around and watched what he does, took notes, and read over documents explaining the projects I was assigned to. 

“Observing and listening to the groups at sessions is the best kind of training. It allowed me to be in the middle of the projects without the pressure of trying to run them – I was able to just try to understand it as it was happening and write down notes in my own words. I was surprised by how much energy 16-year-olds have and how well organised they can be!”

Did you overcome any difficulties to get where you are?

“I was raised by a single mum who worked full-time, so I've had to be fairly independent. From the age of 16 I worked as many hours as possible so I could go to university. I'm always busy and don't have much free time or disposable income, but I have learned self-reliance and appreciation for the little joys in life! 

“I'm the first in my family to go to university, so I consider education to be the most empowering thing anyone can get. This is why I want to teach teenagers – my family situation and past issues have helped me understand the underprivileged students who are often overlooked in schools.”  

What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in social action?

“Be open. Try not to go into it with preconceived notions of what people are like or the best thing to do in a given situation or community. People surprise you on a daily basis and every person’s opinion matters! Also, try to appreciate small victories.

“Something that seems insignificant in the eyes of society can mean a great deal to one of your students. For example, a project might not affect the community as a whole so much, but the students can develop awareness, confidence, communication skills, and general pride in themselves and their capabilities.” 

Do you have any funny stories from your work?

“As I'm not from the UK, I keep having to ask for clarification and explain my own phrases and references to things. At my two-week interview my supervisor asked me if I had any questions and I had to admit I didn't know how to make a cup of tea that is up to English standards! I was worried that the other people in the office would hate me if I refused tea or made tea badly. He laughed hysterically and I was taught the proper way to make a good brew. 

“Everybody has moments where they don’t know what they’re doing – you just have to ask and be humble enough to accept the laughter that comes with learning.” 

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