Young Hearts without Borders

A rising star of volunteer work.
Words by Helen Reilly

Amal Haga’s cooperative education placement was ideal for a Grade 10 student who wants to be a registered nurse—except for the nearly three-hour commute each way.

Amal Haga (left) receives the Rising Star Award of Recognition from Sharleen Sun of The Darling Home for Kids.

Amal Haga (left) receives the Rising Star
Award of Recognition from Sharleen
Sun of The Darling Home for Kids.

Haga’s dedication to that placement was demonstrated by the journey, which required two buses and a taxi from her home in Etobicoke to The Darling Home for Kids in Milton, a palliative care hospice offering respite for families of children with life-limiting illnesses, and end-of-life care. She’s earned The Darling Home’s Annual Rising Star Award of Recognition.

Haga considered the commute an adventure, since she’d never been on a TTC bus before. “It’s only time,” she explains, humbled by the recognition she receives from young and old alike. “It was like I was on a mission or something,” she adds enthusiastically.

At first, she worried that she might hurt a child even through simple interactions, but she soon got over that fear, realizing that while they may not be well, they still want to be treated as normally as possible. By watching the nurses interacting with the kids, Haga learned how to meet the unique needs of each individual. “Nurses help people every day,” she says. “By watching them do their work, I knew what I wanted to do for a living.”

On a typical day, Haga assisted with feeding in the morning and participated in daily routines to ready the kids for their activities. “Most days, I accompanied them on adventure walks outside the hospice—it’s so beautiful there. I played with the younger kids and hung out with the older ones,” she recalls. Through the experience, Haga feels that she learned valuable life skills.

More recently, Haga started volunteering in a local retirement home, assisting with outings such as bus tours, boat cruises, and trips to parks and beaches in the summer.

Haga chose to volunteer with older people instead of children this time, because she enjoys hearing and sharing stories. She has a passion for classic movies starring Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, which is often a shared passion and prompts conversation. “I would want people to do it for me,” she says with an awareness beyond her 18 years of age. “I’d feel sad if no one talked to me.”

She adds: “If I have time to spare, why not use it to help someone else? Really—why not? Interacting with them and adding value to their day is more rewarding for me than doing something else that has no real value.”

Even though her friends don’t volunteer in their community, they respect that Haga does. “Other kids enjoy sports or academics,” she explains. “I guess I like that volunteering is my thing—it’s what sets me apart.”

Haga attends a French secondary school in Brampton: École secondaire Jeunes sans frontières, which translates to “Kids without Borders,” an appropriate reflection of her commitment to others. “I’m the youngest of eight children and the only one of them to be born in Canada,” says Haga. “My brothers and sisters were born in Ethiopia and Somalia, which is why my father speaks French and I attend a French school.

“My parents taught my siblings and I about karma. They told us to always be honest and to do the right thing, and that if we help people, we will do well in life. I feel pretty good about what I’m doing so far,” she beams.

Helen Reilly is a freelance writer, health sector communicator, hospice palliative care volunteer, and “connection specialist”—connecting the dots between organizations, causes and human beings.

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