THE BLOG

Your Kid Is Changing the World

04/03/2016 15:40 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

When she's not mastering writing and maths, 11-year-old Somran Bakhshi is creating an app to help disabled citizens in Ilford navigate public transport to visit free museums and galleries in London.

Somran is a student and budding activist at Gearies Primary School where pupils are part of the WE Schools programme that encourages them to solve social problems and build a bridge to the wider community.

Through WE Schools, students commit to taking action on local and global causes that they're passionate about. Today, more than 2,000 schools and over 300,000 students from across the UK are involved.

"I want everyone to feel like they are part of our community. When we help people, the world becomes a better place," says Somran.

The pupils at Gearies come from mixed economic and ethnic backgrounds. Through community activism, they're coming together to brainstorm and develop solutions to a variety of social problems. In addition to the app Somran is working on, another group of students are creating one that points dog owners to the nearest receptacle for their pooch's poo, keeping pets' feces out of children's playgrounds.

"Because pupils involved in WE Schools learn in a real-life context, they develop tolerance and appreciation for diverse people who share their community," says Daniel Lea, a teacher at Gearies. He also believes the WE Schools programme has helped all Gearies students perform higher than the national standards in their academic work.

"They are motivated and driven to succeed. It's brilliant," adds Lea.

UK teachers who are part of the WE Schools programme took part in a survey by U.S. research firm, Mission Measurement, and the results are impressive: 73 percent said that previously disengaged students are now more involved with school life; 74 percent report students are more optimistic about their future; and a staggering 90 percent of teachers said their students now see themselves as part of a larger community.

For instance, a local elderly centre in Ilford lost local government support for its vegetable and fruit garden that helped keep residents healthy and active. Gearies pupils put on a campaign that won the funding back. The school now runs the garden with the elderly and the community, remaking paths, beds and fences.

"We are going out into the world and helping people that we normally don't see," says Abhinaz Basak, a 10-year-old classmate of Somran.

Zain Mahmood, 19, the head boy with Grange Technology College, has also been transformed through his participation in WE Schools.

His parents immigrated to the UK from Pakistan, and he lives in racially and economically diverse Bradford. Zain could have become one of the too-many directionless young people in his community. But today, he envisions working on health and social breakthroughs, like new vaccines. He says the confidence and motivation to grow, learn and lead came from his school activism.

The teen spearheaded a school fundraising campaigns for the international development organisation, Free The Children, which is a partner in the WE Schools programme. The campaign involved encouraging students to sell and buy beaded chains, known as Rafikis, made by artisans in developing communities overseas where Free The Children works. These individuals earn a much-needed income from the charity's social enterprise, ME to WE, which sells a range of accessories.

"I heard that the money goes to countries where people don't have free access to education and healthcare like we do, and I wanted to be part of that," says Zain.

His volunteer work included giving speeches to classes, recruiting and training student volunteers and raising awareness of global issues, such as how a lack of clean water keeps girls from going to school overseas.

"I wanted to show we can all be social activists; that we can make a difference," Mahmood told us. "I wanted to surpass last year's fundraising goal and did that in the first two weeks of the campaign."

Grange teacher Derek Radcliffe says students like Zain who routinely participate in active citizenship develop more confidence, as well as better communication and leadership skills. "Service learning also gives them more resiliency to deal with academics and issues in their lives."

Across the UK, teachers are looking forward to seeing more WE Schools success stories like Zain and Somran.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity Free The Children, the social enterprise ME to WE and the youth empowerment movement WE Day.

Catch the live stream of WE Day UK on 9 March 2016 starting at 9:45am GMT at www.aol.co.uk and we.org.