Abhay Sharma was in grade 10 when he volunteered for a beach clean-up drive. On the scheduled day, he arrived on the beach only to find barely a handful of volunteers there. "A lot of people who would have wanted to join the drive didn’t turn up simply because they didn’t know about the drive," recalls Abhay. Keen to raise awareness about volunteering opportunities, the Dubai student launched VolunteerSeek, a platform that helps people in the UAE find volunteering opportunities. Now in grade 12 at GEMS Modern Academy, Abhay, who is passionate about debate, public service and technology, is also a TEDx speaker, accomplished debater, and an avid environmentalist. "I am passionate about social entrepreneurship and aspire to work to serve my community," he says.

Excerpts from an interview:

What got you interested in debating and public speaking?

I’ve always enjoyed a good discussion and find it exciting to exchange views with my friends. I enjoy proving my point and stance but also love hearing what other people have to say, even if I don’t hold the same views. This love for discourse encouraged me to become a debater. Debate has taught me to question everything. I’ve learned to think critically and to articulate my thoughts effectively. Most importantly, debate has made me curious about things.

How did you hone your debating/public speaking skills?

My school’s debating society has been one of the biggest factors in my progress in public speaking and debating. I also improved my skills by regularly watching high-level debates and taking notes, analysing motions and taking part in competitions to push myself to improve.

Can you suggest three tips to students who would wish to up their debating skills?

1. Reading articles, argumentative essays and books is one of the best ways to build your knowledge, argumentative skills and critical thinking.

2. Participate in competitive debates and competitions regularly. They can fast-track your progress. Push yourself in a real debate setting and revisit your debates to see where you went wrong and could have improved.

3. Practice. Analyse challenging motions, have mini debates with friends and think of pros and cons of global policies. The work you put in from the start pays dividends in the long run.

Tell us about the app you developed?

VolunteerSeek is a website and app that helps people in the UAE find volunteering opportunities. Residents of the UAE often look for volunteering opportunities but are unable to find something that meets their requirements. Moreover, organisations are unable to tap into the vast number of volunteers available in the UAE. VolunteerSeek aims to bridge the gap between volunteers and volunteer organisations by creating a platform where volunteers can find volunteering opportunities. VolunteerSeek now has numerous organisations and opportunities in the UAE featured on the platform.

The website can be found on volunteerseek.ae. You can also download the app on both iOS and Android devices on the App Store and Play Store respectively.

What kind of environmental and volunteering work have you been doing? What changes do you hope to see in the community/society?

My journey in volunteering started in grade 6 when I started volunteering with the Emirates Environmental Group. Since then, I have regularly taken part in several campaigns and drives. I would go around my neighbourhood, collecting paper and other recyclable material from houses and over the years I have been able to collect more than 2800kg of paper and 20 old electronic devices. In this way, I continue to impact and give back to my community.

I want to see Dubai’s strong spirit of giving and bring about a stronger culture of volunteering. VolunteerSeek can act as a pioneer in bringing about that change and inspiring people to volunteer and give back.

What do you plan to pursue at college? And how are you preparing for it?

I plan to pursue computer science at university. I am an avid tech enthusiast and want to explore the world of computer science.

To learn more, visit haleeducation.com.

Anand Raj OK

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