For me as a newcomer to Canada, one of the most exciting activities is volunteering. For almost a year, I was unemployed and instead dedicated a lot of time and effort to different volunteer activities. The idea of belonging to a community where you can socialize and contribute in your own unique way seems very attractive and noteworthy. Kitchener-Waterloo is diverse, prosperous and very conducive for community-building.
I wanted to explore and to learn more about my new country, new city, new government. First I started volunteering in my son’s school where I delivered milk and snacks to the children during their first nutrition break. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to my son, his friends, and his teachers and to look at his classroom and gym. He was very happy as well. I also volunteered with other school activities including chess games, the Terry Fox run, and a ski trip. I learned a lot about the Canadian culture, the Canadian style of networking, English language and my son’s new educational curriculum.
My son’s school is located in a very diverse neighborhood with many immigrants and refugees. Our family wanted to explore the community and its social background and to form friendships with people from various backgrounds. As my wife landed a job in Markham, Toronto and was there four days of the week, I tried to socialize with the neighbors and to become friends with them.
Eager to know more about our community, I established contact with the administration and other volunteers of a homeless shelter. It was and still is a very interesting, enriching occupation to greet the tenants as a friendly visitor and to play chess with them. I was impressed how much was done by local volunteers, businesses, the City, the government and volunteers to accommodate the needs of people in difficult social situations. My son was also interested and accompanied me a few times to play chess with some of the tenants. I experienced another side of Canada with its many social challenges and inequality.
Some of the stories of the people were really amazing: many of them struggled with mental health, alcohol and drug addictions, depression and poverty. Other stories were realistic and sad. Later I added more volunteer experience (helping refugees learn English, cooking for the First Nations’ people, participating in the Youth Justice Committee in John Howard Society, doing receptionist work at the office of the local MPP) but my first volunteer efforts and impressions were the most memorable. I know much more than many Canadians about the poverty, marginalization, and various social issues and social problems of people from different walks of life.
My volunteer experience enriched me and gave me a different understanding of the society because I enjoy interacting with and listening to people. I discovered that volunteering is a fundamental part of the Canadian culture and history and the Canadian community-building process. The adaptation to my new country and my new volunteer experience gave me new insight and ideas for my personal development. My efforts to find a decent job and to upgrade my legal education taught me that the networking and the volunteering are as a matter of giving to the society, having your own contribution for the common welfare. My belief is that Canada unites people of many different backgrounds, cultures, and religions and gives everybody a chance to start a new life and to provide sustainable future for their children.
My professional legal background and my plans to upgrade my expertise in Canada guided me to search for more focused volunteer opportunities connected with people who had a brush with the law vulnerable people, young offenders, and marginalized persons. I really respect the culture of obedience to the law in Canada which has its explanation in the principles of social justice and mutual respect based in the society foundation. Even when I find a full time job I will like to volunteer!