I had just finished grade 11, and it turned out I only had twenty hours of community service completed – a far cry from the forty hours necessary to graduate from high school. I was not in the ideal position here. How was I going to get twenty volunteer hours in one year when that’s how many I collected over three years? So I decided it was time to get down and dedicate this summer to finishing my hours. But I wanted to do it in style, volunteer someplace cool, someplace where only a privileged few could say they volunteered. I thought the best place to look for such an opportunity would be at the University of Ottawa, especially since I plan to come here in the near future.
After talking to a few people and sending a few emails, I landed up in the Office of Campus Sustainability. The project: create a map of the campus highlighting all the features and services accessible to persons with disabilities. My job: go through the campus and note down some of these features and services. Or another way of looking at it, free campus tours each day. And I earn volunteer hours for it. How could I not accept an opportunity like that?
During the training session, my volunteer coordinator, Merissa, was pointing out sidewalks on campus and how some of them lack proper curbcuts, making it difficult for people with disabilities to get around parts of campus. She was also telling me how people with disabilities cannot apply to some of the programs on campus simply because the buildings those programs are housed in are not wheelchair-accessible. I found that to be ridiculous, and saddening. And it made me realize the burden disabled people face, the opportunities they miss out simply because of a lack of accessibility.
The project – creating a map of accessible campus features – should help make things a little easier for persons with disabilities so they don’t have to worry about how they will safely get around campus; they have enough on their plates already. I feel proud to be part of this noble project. But this is not the only project I was able to get involved in.
There is also the Free Store – endless piles of kitchen utensils and wall clocks and women’s clothing and anything else you could imagine. It was a grand feeling to be standing amidst this great ocean of items. Then I had to try and organize some of the stuff – a little less grand, but still pretty cool. With a bit of organization and more of those funky decorations, I see the Free Store becoming a great success and a pioneer in the field of free storing. And I’m glad to have been involved with it.
I’d like to thank Merissa for bringing me in and tolerating me and keeping my volunteer experience lively and cool, and I thank the Office of Campus Sustainability for providing me with the opportunity to get involved with these wonderful projects. It’s been a good time. And I was also able to finish my hours ☺
~ nivedh - guest blogger extraordinaire
photo credit - jonathan rausseo