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Finding My Purpose

Posted by: Ajay Puri
I was just a seed in the world. My parents planted me and gave me my roots; my South Asian roots. And now striving for life-long learning, I acknowledge my sense of identity through family and connecting to others, as well as appreciating fresh meals and of course Chai, something I prepare every day. I wanted to be an active part of the natural and social environment and most importantly have purpose. Volunteering has truly given me that purpose. That is, to help others unconditionally and to respect the soil on which we walk upon.

Thinking long and hard about my life, I would have never guessed the impact volunteer work would have on me. It all began in my early years while living in Winnipeg. I started volunteering as a referee, timekeeper and a basketball coach, but it was not until I moved to Vancouver that I received the opportunity to see the success of growing roots in my community.

Volunteering at the Riley Park Community Centre in Vancouver, first as a basketball coach for inner-city youth and then as a co-chair on the Riley Park Youth Council, opened my eyes to community development. I remember one day walking in my neighbourhood, noticing all the spray-painted and 'tagged' buildings and the used needles that littered the ground. This scene troubled me, as it not only scarred the buildings, but also our community. I remember asking a young person one night while he tagged his name on a building why he was doing this - he indicated they he wanted people to know who he was and showcase that he was not afraid. He was actually very talented and engaging as he not only translated my name into a tag on the spot but he was able to use multiple spray cans to paint his name. 

It got me thinking that if I involved the whole community--those who complained about the graffiti, including businesses and the elderly, and the youth, some of whom actually tagged--in a positive and fun graffiti clean-up event that maybe we could give our community some new life. We held a two-day event with hundreds of volunteers who went around re-painting walls and picking up loose needles. The "graffiti-busters," as we were known, won recognition from the mayor and the leaders of the community. 

But the true success of the event came a couple of years later. I was approached by a couple of young people and they told me that because of these events they actually painted one of the walls of a building. I was a bit worried by this as I was expecting to see a wall full of tags, but when they showed me what they created--it was truly magnificent. Right in front of my eyes was a beautiful mural showcasing the vibrant and diverse Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. They said that they would never tag again because they finally felt like they belonged. I felt that the roots that I've grown in my life were now planted in another generation and my hope is that this pattern continues for years to come.

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