What were you like when you were 17 years old? What were your hopes and dreams? What did you want to do? And what did you do? Let me introduce you to Ghaid Asfour. She is 17 years old, in Grade 12, lives in Mississauga, is from Syria and immigrated to Canada 3 years ago from the US. This is her story. Knowing that she had to get 40 community hours to graduate from high school, she looked for opportunities to volunteer. This led her to Volunteer Mbc’s website and to her role as a volunteer tutor wherein in Sept 2014, she started tutoring kids from kindergarten to grade 6 in low income areas through the ASPIRE project by Safe City Mississauga, at Peel Youth Village, which is a community hub for youth. She took this on because she loved tutoring and she loved to help. She knew how it felt because she herself needed help lots of times. In April 2015, her supervisor there told her about another volunteer opportunity related to cyber bullying called the Cyber Ambassadors Network. She had been bullied in the past, so when she heard about this opportunity, especially for girls, she was excited to participate. Her role as a cyber ambassador included promoting a positivity campaign through Facebook and Twitter and going to schools, libraries and community centres to deliver presentations about cyber bullying to educate elementary and middle school students. In doing so she has accumulated 50-60 community hours and yet she continues her efforts. When she is asked why she does so, she replies that it is because she loves doing it. Yes, it takes time and effort but it helps others.
When a family friend died of cancer, she wanted to raise money and awareness to fund research. So while she was in Grade 11, from Dec 2015 – Feb 2016, she volunteered as a campaign leader for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. She spoke at schools about cancer awareness. The campaign culminated with World Cancer Day in Feb 2016 wherein, during the assembly at her high school she delivered a presentation. She also wanted to make it fun and as part of her presentation, she asked the students to download an app called the “No Hair Selfie App”, which enables you to take a selfie and with the app you are able to shave your hair virtually to show support to cancer patients and to show them that they are not alone. The students posted the pictures of their shaved heads on social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
In the summer of July 2015 she started a chapter of a non-profit organisation called Seeds of Tomorrow Mississauga which was started by two students in Waterloo to help children in need worldwide. For her chapter, she recruited 5 volunteers to raise money through bake sales and fundraisers. The money raised was sent to World Vision and as a result, her chapter now sponsors a child in Ethiopia helping to provide food, clean water, education and health care.
Ghaid has benefited from her volunteer experiences in many ways. Being a volunteer tutor taught her how to be a better tutor. She still remembers that one of her students had a learning disability and was not doing well in school. Ghaid had to learn to change her teaching methods to suit the child’s level and background. As a result, her teaching skills sharpened. Through the training provided to her, she learned how to teach and how to be very patient with the kids she tutored. This experience inspired her to start a tutoring program in July 2015 geared to any kids, including those with intellectual needs and disabilities, called Mentor 2 Mentee. Sessions are held at libraries after school. She created flyers, advertised online on Facebook as well as promoted her services through word of mouth. Because of demand, she has three friends helping her to do this with each of them tutoring two students each. In all, thirty children have been tutored, to date.
When she thinks about her accomplishments and what she is most proud of, she remembers a 7 year old girl with severe autism. She was difficult to deal with and had speech and temper issues. Over the summer, she taught her Math and English. She is very proud to have been able to do that; to her it was an incredible accomplishment since she was only 15 years old at the time. Ghaid is also proud that she has been able to sponsor a child. Receiving a letter from the child who was very thankful for the positive impact of her sponsorship is very special to her. And receiving a letter from the President & CEO of World Vision Canada, Michael Messenger, acknowledging and thanking them for their efforts as high school students is another moment she is proud of.
From Ghaid’s perspective, the benefits of volunteering are that you learn how to give without expecting anything in return, that you are able to give your absolute potential. As a Safe City Mississauga volunteer, she did not expect an award. She did it because she wanted to learn how to give and volunteering is a great way to learn how to do that.
So her advice to others is this: “Just do it. Don’t look at how much time you have. Stop over thinking it. Don’t think of other options. Volunteering isn’t something extra you should do. Instead it should be something you should do anyway. If you over think it, you will say no.”
And she adds, “A lot of adults think teenagers only care about fun and themselves. Some are like that but not all. Youth have a lot of potential and power and we need more appreciation. There are some stereotypes that we are lazy and don’t care. Not all teens are like that. We want the community to take us more seriously and focus less on the stereotypes”.
In Ghaid’s eyes, one opportunity led to another. Safe City Mississauga nominated her for the Leader of Tomorrow Award because of her efforts and dedication. She received the award at the V-Oscars held by Volunteer MBC in April 2016.
-Written By Lisa Dantas, Volunteer Content Writer