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My Volunteer Story - Shaminda
How Volunteering Helped Me Succeed

We left it all behind…the comfort and support of family and friends. The beautiful sceneries typical of a tropical country painted with the colours of the rainbow, the magnificent ocean shores, white sandy beaches and the giant green mountains. An extremely good pay and an accomplished career in an organization that still has a mighty reputation in the country. Together with our two year old son, my wife and I left it all behind in mid-2010 and arrived in Canada to seek a safe and positive future for our son.

As a newcomer to Canada, one of the greatest pressures I was under was to quickly secure a job that would help provide for my family. The first few months was extremely frustrating and stressful because I was unable to make that all important breakthrough to step into my profession once again. I assumed that the expertise and the reputation I had in my country of origin as a Training and Development professional would place me at a solid foundation. It was not as easy as I thought it would be. I lacked two key elements: the Canadian experience; and a network of contacts to help me speed up the job search. I almost gave up and the extremely cold whether did not help either. There was much to adjust to, much to understand and much to learn on how things are done here in Canada. I needed to take a different approach in how I conducted my job search. This is my story of how volunteering proved to be an important and useful approach.

I enrolled with the local new immigrant settlement organization and attended a Job Search workshop. I have always been passionate about training and I enjoyed conducting training sessions to youth and young adults. Knowing this, the facilitator of the workshop encouraged me to volunteer. She explained how it would help me gain Canadian experience in my field. She handed over the web address Discussing this idea amongst my family and friends, I was constantly reminded of the term “un-paid labour”. However, I thought to myself that since all other efforts are showing slow progress, I decided to only take the positive comments and go ahead with volunteering. The website of Volunteer MBC did not have anything that interested me at the time, so I called the centre and a staff member discussed with me what my objectives of volunteering were. Since no opportunity in my profession existed at the time, a profile was created for me to enable future volunteer opportunity match alerts.

It was after a couple of short volunteer assignments here and there through personal contacts, I received an email alert for a new role of "Program Assistant" at Volunteer MBC. The role was to help coordinate the 'ChangeTheWorld 2011' campaign and the role description immediately caught my attention. It involved encouraging youth to volunteer in the community and provided the opportunity for me to conduct presentations. It was not a role as a trainer, but at least it was close to what I enjoyed doing. I applied and was recruited in February 2011 and successfully concluded the assignment in June of the same year. From day one it was a pleasant and enriching experience.

During my term as a volunteer I realized how volunteering had helped me in many ways. First, the all important first step of exploring what volunteering is about and what positions are available to match my career objectives paid off. It gradually contributed to my Canadian experience and built my professional and personal network.

Canadian experience does not necessarily always only mean requiring experience in one’s professional background. It also includes the confidence to face the people in the workplace with the proper etiquette and the social skills. Many of them were very different to what I was groomed for over a period of thirty years. I should say, that some were completely the opposite. It was volunteering that helped me adjust to the etiquette and social skills here in Canada. It placed me in a better position to gradually build my confidence to face the community. The non-profit and voluntary sector is definitely a target focused sector and yet a forgiving environment. It is better accustomed to help a newcomer through their journey.

My confidence in facing the Canadian society did not immediately address the need for financial stability. Even though I was receiving social assistance, my already thin wallet was soon beginning to shrink even further. I continued with my job search while volunteering. As I was reviewing and developing my resume I realized that including my volunteer experience in my resume closed the void in employment experience between my previous employment to what was my next. Canadian employers do value volunteer experience. It shows them that one has been working towards and is persistent in achieving goals. In addition, I now had specific achievements in Canada to show in my resume.

Further, having proven myself in a workplace setting, I was also extending my network of friends and professional associates who could vouch for my skills and provide a reference. The type of leadership that is practiced at Volunteer MBC and most non-profit organizations fosters talent and skills of all those who enter through its doors. I was allowed to really soar with my capabilities and prove myself. The most life changing learning that I took home through this volunteer experience was that my passion was not to be a trainer, it was to help people learn and grow. This new perspective widened my horizons and gave a much clearer line of sight.

In August 2011, I was able to secure employment as an Assistant Manager in a Domino’s Pizza store owing to the self-confidence through volunteering. While I was enjoying my new job, in October of the same year I received an e-mail with another employment opportunity. The job description encompassed all the things that I was passionate about, capable of and would definitely enjoy doing. With great excitement I applied, was interviewed and ultimately recruited. So here I am since November 2011, once again, serving Volunteer MBC as an employee in a managerial role helping the community to connect with the community.

Volunteering helped me to make a successful transition into employment and a smooth settlement. I attribute my current success in employment and settlement all to volunteering. As a new immigrant who risked it all and left it all behind, it took me about eight months until I realized the value and benefits of volunteering. If you are a newcomer to Canada and facing a similar situation as I did or know someone who does, my advice is to volunteer and explore.

Written by Shaminda
Shaminda Perera is the Learning Resource and Development Coordinator at Volunteer MBC