Skills for Change Celebrates 40 years of changing the lives of immigrants and refugees
Opportunity, experience, and network-building through volunteer work.
An interview with Kartini Ahamat
In recognition of National Volunteer Week, we are taking the opportunity to sit down and talk with Skills for Change staff member Kartini Ahamat to discuss why volunteering is important, how it helps job seekers and how volunteering has led to her current full-time position with Skills for Change.
Kartini was born and raised in Sri Lanka and moved to Canada in 1999. She is currently a Supervisor of Employer Engagement and Community Services at Skills for Change, although she initially got involved with the organization by volunteering at our Employment Ontario (East) office.
Kartini had been aware of Skills for Change for nearly fifteen years before getting involved. When she found herself looking for new employment opportunities she contacted our organization and began volunteering.
“I thought, why not try to volunteer? My last job was as a Community Engagement Manager and I thought my skills could transfer and really lend a hand to the organization,” Kartini tells us.
“What appealed to me so much about Skills for Change was how diverse the organization was. I saw that the CEO was a woman with a diverse background. When you see others who are diverse and who don’t fit in the stereotypical leader mould, it makes you think that there are greater opportunities available for me out there.”
SfC: Can you tell us about your earlier volunteer experience?
Kartini: I’ve been volunteering since I was a child. Once I arrived in Montreal I began to volunteer in health clinics for prenatal and postnatal moms. I was the first Asian woman who could speak certain different languages there and this enabled me to become very involved. I spent ten years volunteering in Montreal.
I had also gained a lot of work experience by volunteering for multi-faith organizations, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and sports associations. As a volunteer, you can not only gain important skills, but you’re also able to meet new people and build a professional network. As a newcomer, you can receive exposure to new job opportunities while also learning about a new culture and language.
SfC: How was your volunteer experience at Skills for Change?
Kartini: I knew, with my experience, I could transfer a lot of my knowledge into helping Skills for Change. My responsibilities included administrative work, updating Salesforce, filing, cold calling and helping to onboard new staff. I was exposed to all sorts of new skills. I started off as volunteering one day a week until I was eventually volunteering basically full-time.
SfC: How did your volunteer experience lead to your career at Skills for Change?
Kartini: While I was volunteering for Skills for Change I was seriously considering going back to school. But, while I was succeeding in my volunteer duties, the staff encouraged me to apply for different paid positions as they become available. While I applied for a part-time position a full-time opportunity came up that I ended up applying to, and that’s how I found myself in the job I have now.
SfC: How does volunteer work benefit newcomers and job seekers?
Kartini: Volunteer work is especially beneficial for newcomers because it gives them an opportunity to socialize with a new community of people where they can build their new professional networks. It’s a chance for them to open up and express themselves in a new environment. It’s a good idea for newcomers to find volunteer opportunities as soon as possible after moving; if they have credentials from back home, it’s helpful to reach out to different organizations where they can use their preexisting skills.
If language is a barrier, centres like Skills for Change will be able to communicate with newcomers through translators and being able to effectively read a person. We can learn a number of different ways to communicate, aside from upgrading our English language skills.
As for job seekers, well, volunteering is the best way to land a job. I received my first two jobs in Canada by volunteering. The more you volunteer the more exposure you receive to new skills and different networks of people.
SfC: Why is it important to volunteer in the nonprofit sector?
Kartini: Volunteering for charities and nonprofit organizations is important. There’s the compassionate quality, you are given the ability to help others one-and-one, which makes all the difference in the world. Helping others who are less privileged or who are marginalized is important and makes us better, well-rounded people.
SfC: What is your advice to someone looking for volunteer work?
Contact friends and peers who have volunteered before. Reaching out to your network is one way to source great opportunities. If you don’t have a network yet, then go to your nearest community centre and ask them how you can offer your time. There’s no wrong way to start!
Are you interested in volunteer opportunities with Skills for Change? Get in touch with us today!
Visit our website and volunteer page for more details.
Be sure to like the Skills for Change social media feeds for news on our next mentoring events, upcoming job fairs, employment programs and so much more!
For over 37 years Skills for Change has supported the integration and well-being of immigrants and refugees in Canada. For more information on us please visit www.skillsforchange.org