WHEN Sangeetha Nair immigrated to Winnipeg five years ago, the only person she knew in the city was her mother. Volunteering was a way to change that.
"I started off mainly to get acquainted with the community, because coming to a new city in my late 20s, it’s hard to make friends at that age," said Nair, who was born in Malaysia and lived in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital, before moving to Winnipeg.
Volunteering was also a way to create a profile for herself and show potential employers she could speak English and had skills.
Nair has definitely succeeded. At the end of last year, local radio personality and philanthropist Ace Burpee listed Nair as one of his 100 Most Fascinating Manitobans for 2013 for her advocacy for anti-bullying initiatives, mental health, cancer and a variety of other causes.
Earlier this month, Nair was recognized by Volunteer Manitoba when she was presented with a Premier’s Volunteer Service award for her work.
Nair said she is addicted to volunteering.
"The more you help people and see how you’ve changed lives and made a difference, it really makes you feel good."
Her passion is planning events. Last year, she helped organize Winnipeg’s Terry Fox Run. The annual run, which raises money for cancer research, was in danger of being cancelled but Nair was part of a group of volunteers who stepped forward to make it happen.
Nair also worked with her friend, local R&B singer Flo Oramasionwu, to create Hateless, a series of events presented at schools that feature musicians and speakers raising awareness about bullying.
The cause is close to Nair’s heart because she was bullied as a young person. As a result, she attempted suicide five times between the age of eight and her mid-20s.
"I feel like if kids just have someone to turn to, and they know what to do in a situation, (bullying) can be stopped," Nair said. "In most cases, they feel very alone and they feel their parents wouldn’t understand, which is why they don’t tell their parents in the first place."
Hateless events also challenge bullies to think about the consequences of their actions and encourage them to channel their emotions into activities such as playing music, writing and volunteering.
"Volunteering has a ripple effect," Nair said. "When you help other people, the people who are helped can help other people."
Burpee, the morning show host on Virgin Radio 103.1, met Nair shortly after she arrived in Winnipeg and has worked with her a number of times. He describes Nair as hard-working and caring.
"Sangeetha’s always very giving of her time. It doesn’t matter what the cause is," said Burpee, who was a co-organizer for last year’s Terry Fox Run. "That thing was wildly successful, and it wouldn’t have been that way without her."
Today, when she isn’t at her full-time job as an event co-ordinator at the downtown YMCAYWCA of Winnipeg, Nair is busy planning an upcoming fundraiser for Lunches With Love, an organization started by 13-year-old Nathan Unrau that provides paper-bag lunches to homeless shelters in the city.
Nair also recently accepted a position on the board of the Manitoba Association for Volunteer Administration.
She has come a long way from the despair she felt as a bullied young person.
"Volunteering really helps your mental health... because you spend your time in a positive way and you get all that positive energy from people you are helping," Nair said. "That really keeps you going and makes you feel that you’re needed."
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