Returned Volunteer Sam Dalton discusses how his Namibian adventure with Project Trust in 2012 has inspired him to continue breaking down social and cultural barriers today with social integration charity The Challenge. 

Has there ever been a more important time for young people in the UK to learn about other cultures and countries and form stronger connections with people from different backgrounds? Our country today is incredibly diverse, yet we spend most of our time in segregated silos with people like us – of the same ethnic background, age and class. And whatever your view of Brexit, it is undoubtedly true that the period since 2016 has seen some worrying examples of sour intergroup relations, with research showing that racist hate crimes have increased, and many UK voters hold prejudiced views towards those of Islamic and Jewish faiths.

6 Things Alex Learned

Sam during his Project Trust year at St Michael’s, Namibia.

We need the next generation to be champions of diversity and difference; of respecting, understanding and learning from those of different walks of life. It’s this key mission that for me makes the Project Trust experience such a valuable one, and which drives my current work in London with social integration charity The Challenge. A Project Trust year encourages an open, outward-looking attitude through the opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture very different from your own for an extended period, at The Challenge we help young people develop similarly trusting and empathetic feelings towards those from different backgrounds through carefully designed programmes which give participants the chance to meet, mix and connect across ethnicity, culture and class. These include National Citizen Service (NCS), which brings 15-17 year olds from different backgrounds together for team challenges and social action projects in their local community.

Project Trust’s expertise lies in international projects and The Challenge’s in domestic initiatives, both do great work to help create a society in which social and cultural barriers are broken down – both between different groups within the UK, and between the UK and other countries. National and global citizenship can and should overlap: NCS graduates have an enhanced appreciation of those from different backgrounds, which then encourages a curiosity in other countries, while Project Trust Volunteers often return home with a strengthened desire to give back to their community and volunteer to help others. My own time away in Namibia with Project Trust drove me to both play an active role in my local community at university, helping out at a nearby primary school, and go abroad again to teach English in India and China during summer vacations. 

Forming stronger social connections with people from different cultural backgrounds should also open our minds to better relations with people of other ages and economic circumstance. Again, it’s about bridging divides which for the most part see us cluster into groups with people like ourselves. At The Challenge one of our big focuses recently has been intergenerational connection, and overcoming the increasing social and geographic age divides that the UK is experiencing. I’ve been working with a cross-party group of MPs and members of the House of Lords to put together some reports on this – the first of which was published in May, ‘Healing the Generational Divide’. 

 

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Sam speaking at an event in Parliament on generational divides.

In a country where the divisions between different groups have been emphasised over recent years, organisations like Project Trust and The Challenge are vital in helping the young people of today to appreciate, understand and celebrate difference rather than shy away from it or even reject it altogether. May they both continue to thrive! 

 

6 Things Alex Learned

Sam and Brother Lucas in Namibia