May Week Alternative: a new way to celebrate

George Rosenfeld 9 June 2018

A year at Cambridge can be intense to say the least. Come the sleep-deprived, library-squatting, Red-Bull-fuelled days of exam term, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel (or, indeed, the light outside your window). That glimmering oasis in the distance is the most highly-anticipated fixture of the Cambridge calendar: May Week.

A week of cathartic celebration, May Week lets us throw away the Red Bull and take out the Cava instead. Whether you attend a luxurious ball or grab a punt and hit the Cam, May Week is a chance for some unrestrained fun. It allows us to sit back and celebrate what we have achieved throughout the year, appreciating the privileges which we enjoy at one of the best universities in the world.

Like many first-years, I have been looking forward to May Week since before I even arrived at Cambridge. But when it came to planning my celebrations, I couldn’t help feeling that the grandeur of May Week holds enormously untapped potential: the opportunity to celebrate by making a positive impact on the lives of others.

That is why I launched May Week Alternative (MWA for short).

MWA invites students to donate the approximate cost of a May Ball ticket (although we welcome donations of all sizes) to the Against Malaria Foundation, named by GiveWell as the world’s most effective charity. Every single penny goes towards the provision of bed-nets, and having secured matched funding, each student’s donation will have twice the impact. Donate £150 – your average May Ball ticket – and you will be protecting 380 people from malaria-carrying mosquitos.

My personal motivation for establishing MWA was simple: May Week represents a celebration of Cambridge’s evident privileges, and I felt that more could be done alongside the glitz and glamour to make the world a slightly better place. I strongly believe that this positive aim goes hand in hand with the spirit of celebration which May Week is all about. By reinforcing the act of helping others as an enjoyable experience, we can change the way people think about charity. And, by using the privilege which runs through our university as a force for good, we can change the way people think about May Week: we can celebrate not just the freedom from exams and the arrival of summer, but also our ability to make a positive impact on wider society.

Sunday 17th June will see an MWA ‘thank you’ celebration where our first group of supporters can get together over food and drink, get to know each other and, most importantly, foster a new kind of community in Cambridge and a new culture to enrich May Week.

The initial support for MWA proves how long-overdue an impactful May Week initiative is. In a mere few weeks, the first 25 students have raised over £2,700 – doubled to £5,400. CUSU has granted the initiative official backing. We have been busy forging relationships with colleges across Cambridge who are excited to join an inclusive, university-wide movement united under one simple strapline: Feel Good, Do Good.

This message has already brought together a broad range of people. One girl, for example, said that it’s hard for her to go from the luxuries of May Week back to her family in India – for her, and others like her, MWA is a welcome addition to the May Week landscape. For others, MWA fits neatly into their May Week schedule alongside college balls and other events. Whether you’re going to May Balls or Garden Parties or both or neither, you are welcome at MWA.

MWA aims to become a central pillar of May Week celebrations, so talk to your friends about it; discuss it; get in contact with us; join the movement! If you would like to support MWA directly and celebrate with us, check out our Facebook page and donation platform.

Everyone involved is looking forward to the first ever MWA. Come 17th June, exams will be over, our windows will be thrown wide, and our fun will be a source of good for thousands of people beyond the walls of our university. If that is not a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.