There are many ways in Qatar for children to spend their free time, from participating in extracurricular activities like ballet lessons and sports clubs to playing video games or spending time outdoors.
But there are also lots of opportunities for kids to help others. For parents looking to ignite a passion for service learning in their children, here’s a list of several ways to get started:
Maktaba children’s library
This newly opened building in West Bay is a perfect opportunity for children to start fostering a love of helping others.
At the library, supervised children ages eight and over can help shelve and organize books, keep the library clean and read to younger ones during story-time in English, Arabic and French.
Speaking to Doha News, co-founder Sarah Champa said:
“We’ve had the privilege of working with many young (student) volunteers who have discovered Maktaba either because they are passionate about books and reading or because they love working with children…
This year, we are very proud to have two of our volunteers who have worked with us regularly through their high school experience choose to continue their service as they begin their university careers.”
Visitors are welcome to use the library’s resources for free while on the premises. Registration costs QR500 annually for families looking to check out up to three books for a period of two weeks, or QR750 annually for larger families who want to check out up to six books at a time, in addition to a QR250 deposit.
The United States Girl and Boy Scouts have active chapters here in Doha for kids of all ages. The groups focus on service learning and are open to kids of all nationalities.
Kids are divided into Cub Scouts are for ages six-11 years old and Boy/Girl Scouts are ages 11-18 years old.
Speaking to Doha News, local Boy Scout troop leader Jeff Sulik said that members in Doha choose, organize and assist in required community service projects in order to advance in their rankings.
They participate in beach cleanups, environmental education projects, refugee collection supply drives, and animal rescue initiatives. All projects are chosen and facilitated by the kids themselves. He added:
“Boy Scouts encourage leadership roles for young men where boys are encouraged to give back to their community through volunteering and service learning projects. Responsible boys become responsible adults. That’s our focus.”
There are also several active United States Girl Scouts troops here in Doha.
Their projects have included creating successful initiatives for the Qatar Veterinary Center (QVC) and Qatar Animal and Welfare Society (QAWS), including collecting supplies and organizing a bake sale to donate the profits to QVC.
Ajyal film juror
The Ajyal Youth Film Festival will run at Katara Cultural Village from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.
Organizers are seeking young jurors between the ages of 8 to 18 years old to review films (which are all age appropriate) to determine the best pieces of the festival.
This opportunity is open to all responsible, enthusiastic children in the above age range. For more information or to sign up, visit the Doha Film Institute’s website here. The deadline to register as a volunteer is Sunday, Nov. 15.
Helping the environment
Given the long-standing issue of littering on Qatar’s once-pristine coastlines, there is a desperate need for beach cleanups and environmental education for locals and expats.
To encourage awareness, Helen Gauden-Ing, a British national and mother of two young children, is the volunteer administrator of the Doha Beach Clean Project.
“The climate is now perfect for beach lovers and families spending their days outside on the weekends. Our monthly Beach Clean Up events are an excellent educational opportunity for children of all ages and nationalities to get involved.
It also gives little ones a chance to learn responsibility while having fun at the beach. These young people are, in turn, actively learning to make their environment beautiful, safe and litter-free.”
The next event will be in early December. For more information, visit the group on Facebook here.
Several local animal rescue centers are seeking people to love and care for their furry clients.
Dog-walking and cat-cuddling are a fantastic option for children with a kind spirit. Caring for animals teaches children accountability and respect for all living things.
Active parent volunteer Phillipa Purnell told Doha News:
“The main reason that kids go and walk dogs and care for these shelter animals is a kind spirit fueled by a love of animals, first and foremost.
Secondly, families often cannot have pets at home here due to apartment living or family travel obligations, so this is where they get their ‘pet fix.’ And lastly, these children and their families greatly assist in sustaining the shelters, which are in dire need of food, supplies, and money to help care for their furry creatures.”
For more details, contact the groups via their Facebook pages.
Entalek, an “eco-adventure company,” is dedicated to teaching Qatari and expat youth about the importance of environmental education and awareness.
The group focuses on the Al Thakira Mangroves, nestled just north of the city of Al Khor, and conducts environmental education programs such as mangrove planting and beach cleanups around Purple Island. The programs offered are all carefully coordinated and supervised by experienced, enthusiastic educators.
Entalek also actively works with school children to teach them about the natural wildlife. These young “ambassadors” for preserving the beauty of Qatar often begin with a kayaking tour through the mangroves and finish with an energy-filled beach cleanup.
Founder Steve Rhodes told Doha News:
“We, as former educators, try to serve as many Qatari children as possible, as well as children from all over the globe. We intend to awaken their innate curiosity and passion for taking care of our environment.
Many of the children with whom we work, it’s their first time seeing mangroves. Our team is confident that we are instilling a responsibility and interest in conservation in these children as a result of our endeavors.”
Many private schools in Qatar also incorporate service learning into their curriculum.
For example, Newton International School, Lagoon’s students have organized a bottle collecting (recycling) initiative, shoebox collections for migrant workers and a road-safety campaign involving seatbelt usage.
Speaking to Doha News, NIS Lagoon’s Head of Primary School Angelina Farmer said:
“Children naturally have a sense of empathy instilled in them. They want to help. They want to show love. In this sense, they thrive from doing positive things for other people.”
Meanwhile, at the American School of Doha (ASD), young volunteers have tutored the school cleaning and maintenance staff in English, made and sold ceramic along with homemade soup to raise money for charity and participated in a water conservation study on campus.
They also initiated a “no idling” campaign to stop cars and buses from sitting outside the school and wasting energy which can contribute to carbon dioxide emissions.
Elsewhere, students at the International School of London (ISL) have successfully created and implemented projects such as the first rooftop garden in Qatar, and organized “caring campaigns” where the upper primary secondary school students organize regular skits and messages for students in the primary school meant to reinforce kindness.
ISL facilitator Pilar Fernandez told Doha News that the key is a pro-active student community and fostering independent leaders in training.
“Volunteering is essential to the life of a student. If a child begins volunteering at a young age, they can then see their future role in a globally empathetic society. Exposure to kindness and helping others is infectious.
We also encourage our students to be innovative, strong leaders who come up with their own ideas in terms of service learning and carry them out themselves…Even if it’s just one student volunteering, we are satisfied because that is one student making a difference.”
To see what your child’s school is up to, ask the administration if they have any outreach programs encouraging kids to volunteer. If not, consider approaching the school with a proposal for a volunteer idea.
Even better, have your child or children write their own proposal in their own words. Find a cause that they feel a personal connection to and let them take the reigns.
They might need some guidance along the way but they will appreciate this sense of independence and most likely, flourish. Encourage them to think outside the box and follow their heart in regards to volunteering.
Sometimes, the best way to get kids involved is to simply look around. For example, your workplace may be willing to partner with children on a volunteer initiative.
Have your kids choose a cause that they care about and then give them the responsibility to write up and present the proposal.
Keep it simple and find that personal connection for your child and perhaps for your family. Make a commitment to follow through with this project along with your help.
Another alternative is to check with those organizing your child’s extracurricular activities.
For example, H2O Swim Club is a well-established swimming organization here in Doha that is also committed to engaging its young athletes in community service.
The group’s members have run a blood drive through the Red Crescent, and are currently working on a project to help people in the Philippines.
Lastly, if all else fails, look inside your own neighborhood. Children have great ideas. Encourage them to have a local bake sale and give the profits to the local Red Crescent or another registered charity with whom you and your family feel a connection.
Consider organizing a yard sale within your compound and donating the revenue to a worthy non-profit. Regionally, especially in the Middle East, there are many established organizations that need help.
Talk to your kids regularly about helping others. Teach them to be independent and follow through with their volunteering goals.
And perhaps, most of all, be inspired by them.