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School of Continuing Studies | University of Toronto

Our Blue Hats

It was my second week in Canada and first week of my classes. I heard that the English Language Program volunteer meeting was on Wednesday. My goal was exactly the same as other students in that meeting, discovering the Canadian life style and improving my spoken English. That week’s assignment/position was to help the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation organize the recreation area and lead attendees before the actual run which was held on Sunday, October 6th, so all preparations should be completed on Saturday. 

We were informed to be at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The first day of my volunteering experience was on a gloomy day. It seemed like it was going to rain. However, everybody who signed up for the position was at the meeting point on time despite the bad weather. Daniel, our team leader, must have arrived to the meeting point before us that he showed up from nowhere with blue ELP hats in his hands. After taking one for each, we started to walk towards King College Circle – it was 10 minutes away from OISE. By the time we arrived there, other volunteers had already started working

It was, somehow, a competition with other volunteering teams. Thus, after arriving there, we were immediately charged with jobs according to our skills and likes. I was assigned to work with other volunteers to build the Wall of Hope, where people can share their pain by writing a message for loved ones or the ones that suffered from cancer. The purpose of the wall made me realize once again that everything we did those two days absolutely made a change in someone’s life. Nonetheless, building it was not that easy because the previous year, they forgot to number the parts. Although it took longer for us to assemble each part, I saw that as an opportunity to practice my English more with native Canadians. While working with them, I enhanced my actual vocabulary by adding new words. Studying in an academic language program unquestionably helped me to improve my English for an academic environment. However, when I needed to communicate on a daily life basis, academic English seemed distanced. Thus, building the wall of hope was, perhaps, the best way to expand my every-day vocabulary.

The next assignment was to organize the food tent which was for runners and attendees. We worked with other volunteers collaboratively. As a result, the preparations were accomplished quicker than usual. I noticed that everybody, both coordinators and team leaders, dedicated themselves in order to create the best event. All of them were helping volunteers to receive the best results from the work that was being done. Moreover, there was a precise schedule prepared in detail and every step of the preparations was determined hourly by the organization company. The best part of Saturday was I was able to drive a golf cart to spread sand bags as supports for the barriers around the recreation area. Despite the fact that I attained some of my bullet points on my bucket list on Saturday.

Sunday was stunning. Seeing all those people, runners, volunteers and attendees, converging to make a difference for both themselves and others was utterly moving and was worth being a part of. I have no doubt that volunteering has made my stay in Canada more enjoyable by creating the perfect conditions for meeting new people and it helped me understand how charity foundations work in Toronto. Besides, being busy with something else instead of studying English every day virtually five hours aided me to clear my mind and focus more on my studies. Especially, at the end of the day, the smile you obtain after completing the given task makes you even happier. Because during those two days there were huge numbers of people, they will not be able to remember our faces clearly. However, they will never forget our contribution and blue hats.

-October, 2013

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