Virtual volunteering takes the cake

Students completing their Duke of Edinburgh awards have adjusted their programs due to pandemic restrictions.

09 June 2020
A student sitting behind a sewing machine holds up a face mask.
Image: Stitching together a new plan: Abigail Naseby with her homemade face masks.

From baking cakes and making masks for frontline workers to bird and penguin spotting, the COVID-19 lockdown has made Northern Beaches Secondary College students get creative about community service.

With the advent of social distancing, the student participants in the college’s Duke of Edinburgh program had to adjust their planned skills acquisition and community service projects.

For many of the students a desire to help out during the pandemic was the inspiration behind their choices.

Although she had never operated a sewing machine, Year 11 Freshwater campus student Abigail Naseby took on the task of making face masks.

“The global crisis that we have all been living with over the past few months had a huge impact on my selection of voluntary service,” Abigail said.

“As we all did I saw the devastating impact the virus was having on the world and I wanted to play a role in helping, no matter how small that role would be.”

The Gold Duke of Edinburgh participant had to overcome the challenge of not knowing how to sew as well as researching a pattern and the best fabric for the task.

Having made 40-plus masks over her weekends, Abigail was able to distribute them via a friend to NSW Transport workers and admitted to a sense of pride “in knowing that I had made a contribution, even though it was only a minor one”.

Luke Irwin had planned to coach his mother’s soccer team to satisfy the community service element of his Silver Duke of Edinburgh award but instead he took up a pair of binoculars.

Twice a week the Year 10 Manly campus student, has surveyed the birdlife in his backyard for Birdlife Australia and has been surprised by the number of species that call his house home.

“There has been a lot of Noisy Miners, but there has been way more species than I thought – every half hour I would see about 10 different species,” Luke said.

Georgie Wickings, a Year 10 student at Cromer campus, had to rethink her community service after the library where she was set to volunteer closed.

With a mother working at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Georgie decided to show her appreciation to healthcare workers through baking sweet treats such as Anzac biscuits, brownies, muffins and slices.

For the past six weeks Georgie has baked on the weekends and her mother has delivered the treats to staff on the Monday.

“I love cooking so much, which is good and … everyone [at her mother’s work] really likes it and gets so excited when I bake,” Georgie said.

A woman holds up a cookie.
Image: A worker at Prince of Wales hospital with cookies baked by Georgie Wickings.

Mackellar campus student Amirah Dobby is on the entry level of her Duke of Edinburgh but said she had found a skill that she hoped to see through to the Gold award.

A Noongar woman, Amirah had to take her plan to learn her indigenous language online after social distancing and a lack of speakers meant it was not practical to find a local teacher.

The Year 9 student enrolled in an online course through Curtin University in Western Australia and will study one hour a week for six months.

The Noongar language group is found in the south of Western Australia – the area where some of Amirah’s family are from.

She said studying the language is a real source of pride as for a long time many people in her family were forced to deny their Aboriginal heritage for fear of discrimination.

“I’ve had family members impacted by the Stolen Generations – now I can be proud of being Aboriginal and I didn’t have to go through what they did,” she said.

Her long-term aim is to be fluent in basic speech by the end of this course and then continue learning the language.

Ella Maryska has also taken on the role of citizen scientist, signing up to help out research projects via Zooniverse.

“Through the COVID-19 pandemic I realised there would be less and less researchers and volunteers to help with these important projects and I decided that it would be the perfect time to help out,” Ella, a Year 9 Bronze Duke of Edinburgh participant at Manly campus, said.

Ella had volunteered with five different organisations but nominated Penguin Watch, where volunteers monitor time-lapse cameras to help count penguins in remote locations, as her favourite.

The volunteer work had been eye-opening, Ella said.

“It has made me realise there is so much left in this world undiscovered and that there are so many undiscovered opportunities in pretty much every field of work,” she said.

“It has also inspired me to involve myself further into the Zooniverse program and that even after Duke of Ed finishes I will still continue to help these organisations.”

  • Student voices
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