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As we reflect on the past year and look forward to all we hope to accomplish in 2021, it is hugely gratifying to revisit the impact that our Virtual CAS Conferences had on the students who helped make them such a resounding success so far. 

As a weekend-long event that incorporates vibrant keynote speakers, dynamic discussion groups, and culminates in a Charity Hackathon Service Learning project, our Virtual Conferences are challenging and rewarding in equal measure. 

Coming in with an open mind and a willingness to learn from their peers, the participants of last year’s events were exemplary models of the curiosity and approach to learning that make the IBDP program so unique.

For our Europe, Africa, Middle East Conference, the Charity Hackathon focused on Plastic Punch, a Ghananian NGO whose mission is to raise awareness of the dangers of plastics for humans, wildlife, and the environment and create sustainable waste management solutions. By bringing the local community into contact with the problem, the Plastic Punch team aims to educate and provide modeling so that waste is disposed of in a more thoughtful and environmentally-conscious way. 

In building their project proposal, the students were tasked with finding a solution to bolster Plastic Punch’s effort to deal with the added waste of masks and gloves in the age of COVID-19. Essentially, the students were asked, “how can we prevent the spread of the virus without harming the environment?”

The participants tackled the challenge eagerly and with a genuine desire to support the activities of the NGO. Let’s take a look at a few of their key takeaways and how Virtual CAS Conferences provided a bright light in a year of learning challenges.

Building a community 

“I met a network of people I can work with in the future.”

Kieran Muller, a student at the American School of Doha, joined the Africa, Europe, and Middle East iteration of the CAS Virtual Conference eager to connect with like-minded people and continue his work with an organization whose mission he already felt strongly about—Extinction Rebellion. His experience did not disappoint. 

“When I first saw the advertisement, I thought I need to do this,” he explained, “and it ended up far exceeding my expectations.”

In a year of dashed travel plans and adjusting to remote learning, Kieran stated that the Virtual CAS Conference allowed him to connect with inspiring people that he would not have been able to otherwise and grow a network that he is excited about developing. 

Quickly establishing a productive relationship with his teammates for the Charity Hackathon segment of the weekend, Kieran and his group worked together in dynamic collaboration, sharing ideas and debating the issues they were endeavouring to address. They ended up with a project they were incredibly proud of, knowing they had created something capable of real impact. 

“At the end, we all looked at each other and were like, wow, you guys, this is really good.”

Looking back on the challenges and possibilities that the last year provided, Kieran concluded, “in a way, the pandemic has given me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, including this conference. I would recommend it to other students without a doubt.”

Expanding global mindedness 

“This experience has challenged my beliefs and challenged me.”

Originally from Germany but currently living in northern Netherlands, Leonie Pets was nervous and excited before the conference. “The sheer number and diversity of the people attending were a bit overwhelming,” she admitted. Thankfully, it did not take long for her to realize that the bringing together of diverse voices and perspectives is precisely what makes the conferences so fruitful.  

In reflecting on the impact that working with an international team had, Leonie said, “it helped me become aware of how an issue can differ depending on where you are in the world, and how lucky I’ve been in many of these situations.”

Rooted in communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, the format of the Virtual CAS Conferences encourages open-mindedness and ensures all participants can share their perspectives and experiences. 

As Leonie noted, “meeting students from around the world allows you to see how different issues affect different countries. It was very eye-opening and made me consider causes and issues I could never have imagined on my own.”

Developing confidence and initiative 

“I feel empowered to act.”

Upon completion of his first virtual conference, Lachlan Nichol, an IB student from Geneva, immediately concluded, “I can say I feel empowered and positively impacted. It made me realize that I, as a youth, can make a difference.”

A driving force of the Virtual CAS Conferences and the integral Service Learning Charity Hackathon is to remind young people of the power they have to enact real change in their local communities and on a broader global level. As Lachlan explained, “my involvement in the Virtual Conference made the strength of my voice and my ability to incur change that I want to see very tangible.” 

By providing students with the framework and guidance to develop unique and feasible collaborative Service projects, they can put their creativity and knowledge into action. The multinational aspect also allows students to appreciate the value of collaborating with people from different backgrounds and how the most impactful projects are a coming together of global perspectives and experiences.

Building confidence and an eagerness to get out into the world and do things, the Virtual CAS Conferences have been particularly vital in a time when many energized young people are primarily confined to their homes. As Lachlan stated, “I was doubtful for a long time about my ability to make a change, I believe the Virtual Conference allowed all participants to realize the impact we can make when we work together.”