Top 24 Under 24: Children’s hospice volunteer embodies community spirit

Published in 24 Hours Vancouver | October 21, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+ 

Canuck Place Children's Hospice volunteer Salina Dharamsi is in our Top 24 Under 24. Photo by David P. Ball

Canuck Place Children’s Hospice volunteer Salina Dharamsi is in our Top 24 Under 24. Photo by David P. Ball

Salina Dharamsi epitomizes the volunteer spirit in her quest to help children.

For eight years, the 22-year-old has been a friend to kids at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, taught nutrition in the Downtown Eastside and tutored youth with learning disabilities.

Her extensive volunteering is fuelled by a sense of fairness, she said, and has earned her a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

“When children are diagnosed with a terminal illness so early, it just isn’t fair,” said the Vancouverite. “No one deserves to die before their 20th birthday. I wanted to contribute in some way.”

As one of roughly 350 Canuck Place volunteers, Dharamsi works reception and directly with kids. She’s given “hundreds and hundreds of hours of service,” said Leanne Freeman, the organization’s volunteer and services director.

“Salina’s working very frontline,” she said. “She companions the kids, she plays and does activities with them. It requires somebody who’s fun and has initiative, but it’s also about being a good listener, being able to read and judge the mood of the children.”

As Dharamsi guides 24 hours around the luxurious Shaughnessy gardens outside the distinctive turreted hospice, she crouches inside a warped Gaudí-esque playhouse and shows off a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round.

“Basically, it’s being a friend to children in need,” she explained. “The older kids will talk to you about their problems.

“They often just need somebody to listen to them, not to sympathize with them, but just to be a friend.”

Freeman explained volunteers contribute around 23,000 hours annually.

“It’s staggering,” she said. “They bring time, skills and energy, but they’re also people with open hearts … Fundamentally, Salina brings such a gentle, calm, caring approach to her work.”

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