Every day, people in crisis need help here in Canada and around the world. But this is something often overlooked by many as work schedules and busy routines prevail.
What we often don’t consider is who is carrying out this critical work, volunteering their time to be that someone and provide unwavering support to local and international communities when they need it most. In Edmonton, Reshma Sirajee is one of these people.
At just 24, the graduate student, who is studying HIV in the pediatric population, dedicates her free time to helping others by volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross. She was recently featured in the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 Under 30, and moments into our conversation, her compassion for others shined through.
Sirajee moved to Canada from Bangladesh when she was 11 years old.
“One of the purposes of my family moving here was education and building a life for ourselves,” she tells Daily Hive. “I took my education very seriously; I finished my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences in 2019 and I’m now finishing my Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences at the University of Alberta.”
Growing up as a newcomer in Canada, Sirajee says, led her to volunteer with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. She has created projects to address how communities can help immigrants or refugees and communications tools to assist with getting to know the community and integrating better.
Passionate about working with vulnerable and minority populations, Sirajee was first introduced to the Red Cross when she worked at the University of Alberta’s Campus Food Bank. Her employer was a Red Cross volunteer at the time and suggested that she should get involved.
“I often remember him taking a phone call, and all of a sudden, he has to deal with a fire or a flood, a situation like that,” she notes. Upon finishing her contract with the food bank, Sirajee wanted to find a similar experience, which would allow her to assess safety, but also involved human connection when providing support to a person.
Of her time volunteering with the Red Cross to date, Sirajee says, “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more than just a human connection.” She credits the diverse team, united by common goals, that she has the opportunity to work with and the experience of meeting people at their most vulnerable points in life.
Working with the emergency response team, Sirajee answers the phone when someone calls, gathers their information, details about the disaster, and where they are currently located before passing this information to her team and delegating tasks.
They also provide integral services like emergency shelter, food, registrations, referrals for mental health services, and more to people who have been forced to leave their home due to a fire, a flood, or another disaster.
Being able to give people a roof over their head, food, and other basic necessities offers Sirajee peace of mind. She, too, understands what it feels like to have her home taken away and not have access to essential food, shelter, and clothing.
“It is a lot of work within the first 72 hours,” Sirajee explains. “And we try to get these [tasks] done within the first 24 hours, just so that they have a place to live and they have their essential services at hand.” She continues, “It is a very important role in the sense that I know as soon as a firefighter shows up, we’re there to provide them with emotional support.”
Sirajee tells us she feels genuinely grateful for having the privilege of time and energy to give back to her community.
“When I moved to Canada, my family was fortunate to have volunteers, especially the Edmonton Mennonite Centre; all of those different non-profit organizations and volunteer-run services, support us,” she says.
“For me, being able to give back to the community, as well as progress our community services a little bit more so that other people can benefit from it, is very rewarding. I feel like I’m giving back to my community [the same way] they built me up [when we first arrived in Canada], in a way.”
Before becoming a volunteer, Sirajee admits that she thought the role would be very procedural, but she says this isn’t the case. “I think a volunteer role really allows you to learn a lot about yourself. It’s not just helping people and giving your time; you’re getting a lot out of it, and you get to find mentors, find a team, and connect with other people.”
Every skill is valuable, Sirajee says, and she urges anyone passionate about helping their community, meeting people from all walks of life, building meaningful connections, and learning about emergency management to consider a volunteer role.
“Personally, I’ve benefited a lot from finding mentors through the Red Cross and people who cheer you on.”