Marina's Story

 

Volunteering: Getting Ahead by Giving Back

Whatever you call it, "saidia, harambee, adhar dhi or seva khor" volunteering can play an important role in helping a newcomer integrate into their new country…

Odd, but back in Goa, India and in Kenya, when my parents and I helped out at various community events and programs, we never really thought of ourselves as "volunteering." It was just something we did, something that came naturally: Be it tutoring students, helping-out at orphanages or nursing homes, attending cleanup events and outreach camps in remote villages, raising funds for various causes.

In Kenya, where I was born, we called it 'saidia' (help) or 'harambee' (pulling together, unite); in Goa, where I was schooled and raised, it went by ‘adhar dhi or seva khor’ (help out) or just 'reach out'; I'm not sure what they call it in Dubai, where I was married, enjoyed my career and continued to volunteer. Whatever you want to call it, donating your time and energy to worthwhile community pursuits is a worldwide phenomenon.

So, after my husband, three children and I arrived in Mississauga in 2007, and the excitement of settling down and carving out a new life here began to fade, it just seemed natural that – eventually – I would volunteer in the community.

For me, there were some personal, pragmatic reasons for getting involved: My kids were well settled in their new school routine and my husband was gainfully employed. There was not much for me to do around the house. It was time to snap out of my quasi self-imposed sabbatical and get back into the fray, become a resourceful person again, venture out of my newfound comfort zone and add some value to my life. And, by the by, find out more about my adopted country.

But it wasn't as simple as knocking on doors, looking for something to do. Somehow the transition into a new life in Canada had sucked a substantial amount of self-confidence out of me. I had to help myself first, to be of help to others. My first step was to enroll in a course for internationally trained professionals. This introduction to the Canadian way of life was an eye opener. Besides learning job search techniques, we were taught that networking and volunteering were vital to integrating oneself into a new country.

In time, I volunteered at my son's school, and later with the Social Planning Council of Peel where I assisted with the preparation of a research study, Portraits of Peel 2006. I have since parlayed my volunteering into a full-time job with Volunteer MBC, which strives to match individuals who wish to volunteer with organizations that need them in Mississauga, Brampton or Caledon.

But the journey was just as important – and fulfilling – as the destination.

For many newcomers, volunteering is a new name for an age-old concept: help, lend a hand, reach out, do social service. But the benefit cuts both ways – something that newcomers ought to be aware of.

In addition to the satisfaction, sense of purpose and warm inner glow that volunteering brings; it also helped prepare me to integrate into my new community, boosted my morale and let me regain my self-confidence.

More vitally, volunteering allowed me to take a test drive on a new career path; it provided a venue for displaying my academic wares and my career experience.

Volunteering is a great part of Canadian life and every contribution, no matter how simple, makes our community and our country a better, safer and more "homey" place to live. It let me become part of a quilt that continues to add threads, rows and lines to our wonderful multifaceted community.

Written by: Brian Christmas