When it comes to community volunteering, 20-year-old Mannat Malik sets a pace that's difficult to match.
She first volunteered in grade 10, helping refugees practice their English through a local English Conversation Circle. Since then, the third-year McMaster University student has worked with at-risk youth, persons with a mental disability and kids in poverty. She devotes 20 to 30 hours a month to volunteering.
In recognition of her commitment, Malik was recently honoured with the Hamilton/Burlington YMCA Peace Medal.
CBC Hamilton sat down with Malik to talk about her causes, her convictions and the source of her incredible drive to help those in need in the community.
CBC Hamilton: Why did you first get involved in volunteering?
Mannat: I started with the English Conversation Circle because I saw it as a great opportunity to meet people from other countries.
CBC: Tell me about your work with refugees.
Mannat: I came into the experience thinking that I would have the opportunity to support people who needed it. But frankly, we’ve become support systems for one another. They changed me and I changed them.
'I’m still not really sure about what I want to be, but I find volunteering sort of helps me gain clarity.'
I’ve been working with two girls from Myanmar, who were 11 and 12 years old when they came to Canada. When they moved here they barely knew anyone. I’ve been helping them improve their English, but we’ve really become close friends. We call each other sisters and they’re just really sweet girls.
CBC: And your other volunteering?
Mannat: I coach with CanSkate (learn to skate program) on Saturday mornings and I helped form a girls empowerment camp at the Eva Rothwell Centre.
I’m also with the Best Buddies [a support program for people with a mental disability] and I meet with a mentally disabled woman and do crafts, go for walks and go into the city.
In 2008 I went to India and set up a program [through an aunt who lives there] and I taught young children in the slums of New Delhi.
CBC: What was that experience like?
Mannat: I don’t speak Hindu or Punjabi, so it was hard sometimes. But it was really amazing to see how happy they were with what they have.
CBC: What’s been the most challenging part of volunteering?
Mannatt: When I was first getting to know Becky [in the Best Buddies program] it was challenging, because it was hard to get her to open up and talk.
She’s 42 and lives in Dundas, which is great because that’s where I live, so I was able to visit her and we talked on the phone every few days. But getting her to open up and trust me was hard because she’d had other volunteers and they hadn’t stayed long.
Then last Christmas she gave me a card thanking me for being her friend. That was a big moment for me.
CBC: You've been quoted as saying volunteering has helped you figure out who you are.
Mannatt: I’m still not really sure about what I want to be, but I find volunteering sort of helps me gain clarity.
It’s taught me that making those personal connections is something I really value. I've also learned that your actions can define who you are, both how you see yourself and how others see you. It’s also helped me to feel part of the Hamilton community.
CBC: Has it taught you what you want to do with your future?
Mannat: The more I get into volunteering the more I think I’d like to work in the field of international development or global studies.
CBC: What would you say to high school students who have to do 40 hours of volunteer work?
Mannat: I would tell them to find something they’re interested in. If you find something that interests you then volunteering can really compliment what you’re doing. I think volunteering has changed and shaped who I am more than anything.