Today’s world can often seem like a cold and dark place. If you’re an arts and social sciences student, you may even be studying how the world is even worse than it appears at times. Some days, opening social media can make you want to crawl under the covers and never come out. At times like this, it’s hard to see how change can be possible.
So what can we do? Start small and start local. It can be hard to start and you might not feel like you’re making a difference, but the little things help. Below are just a few suggestions of small changes you can make to help contribute to changing the world.
- Buy secondhand clothes
We’re all aware by now that most clothes we wear are made in sweatshops. Don’t believe me? Check your labels right now and see where they’re made (especially if you bought your clothes at Zara, Joe Fresh, or Forever 21). While ultimately the best way to combat sweatshop labour is to buy locally made clothes, that can be extremely expensive. For cost-conscious students, another option is to buy secondhand. By buying pre-owned clothes, you can help cut down on supply demands and cut back on contributing to sweatshop labour. Check out consignment stores for incredible quality or webpages like SFU Closet.
- Retweet, don’t commentate
Don’t get me wrong, some activist hashtags require your personal narrative (#MeToo is a good, if not complicated example.) But, if you don’t share the experiences of those using those hashtags, don’t feel the need to add your voice. Let those who have experienced those problems speak for themselves and help spread their message by sharing their posts. If you have privilege, use it to elevate the voices of those often silenced.
- Volunteer when you can
This one can be hard for students, myself included. As someone with two jobs, three classes, and numerous extracurriculars, I don’t have time to volunteer as much as I’d like. However, there are lots of little things you can do in the small gaps of your schedule. There are groups that allow you to write to people who don’t receive many letters to help them feel better (prison inmates, nursing home residents, sick kids, etc). Sometimes, to unwind, I’ll knit and when I’m done, I’ll donate the scarf I made to a charity of one kind or another.
You can also volunteer once a week if your schedule allows. Scouts Canada, Girl Guides, and Big Brothers Big Sisters are almost always looking for people to help out. Or you can volunteer with one of the many groups on campus (I personally volunteer at the Women’s Centre when I have time). Let’s not forget how many opportunities pop up during the holiday break, too! Soup kitchens and homeless shelters often need more help during the cold months.
- Cut down on unnecessary spending
There’s some things you just can’t live without. Today, it’d be pretty hard to just throw your smartphone out the window and live phone-less. So yes, have a phone, but maybe don’t buy every new version of the iPhone as it comes out. Foxconn (the manufacturer of Apple products, among others) is notorious for poor treatment of its workers. By using your phone until it doesn’t work anymore, you can effect a similar change to that suggested in the “buy secondhand clothes” section. This option will also help save you money.
- If you do have to buy, try to “shop for good”
A lot of organizations these days offer items that will benefit either producers or charities. Fairtrade coffee and bananas are a good example of this. Fairtrade supports workers in gaining a fair income, using sustainable farming practices, and ensuring their future is one of their choosing. All bananas sold on Burnaby campus are Fairtrade and most of the coffee shops offer Fairtrade options. While not directly benefiting farmers, by buying slightly bruised fruits and veggies that are still good, you can help cut down on food waste.
Other options include buying products that partner with charities (TOMS is a popular example of this, as is the (RED) campaign). This article provides a lot of other options to help you “shop for good.”
There are plenty of other things you can do (cut out meat once a week, eat sustainable seafood, recycle, etc.) and this is by no means an extensive list. It’s just a couple of easy things to think about throughout your day. When the world gets bleak, remember that you can do something to help make it a little better. As they say, “it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”