Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Can you see helping kids? CanU can

Volunteer lends an ear in program at U of M

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When Danielle Koop moved to Winnipeg from North Sudan at 17, she didn't like the cold.

"I cried when it went below zero," said the nursing student. "I wore ski pants and it was minus one."

Despite the forecast, the 22-year-old stands outside for bus duty every Tuesday night on Dufferin Avenue.

Koop waits to pick up students in grades 5 and 6 from 11 different schools for CanU, a local program that brings children from Winnipeg's inner city to the University of Manitoba.

CanU is a 12-week mentor program that promotes sport, nutrition and education.

It started in 2010 with 15 students and 30 volunteers. Now, the program has grown to 160 kids with more than 270 volunteers.

When the University of Manitoba student first heard about CanU, she knew she couldn't say no.

"I wanted to do something meaningful," she said. "I'm really passionate about kids."

Today, Koop is busy studying for exams and working on the side. But she also considers volunteering her own personal therapy.

"I love it; the kids are so much fun," she said.

Koop volunteers twice a week at the university. She can be found sprawled across the floor doodling with colourful markers on a large sheet of paper, with dozens of kids latched onto her arms.

She can also be found laughing and discussing popular bands such as One Direction.

This is Koop's second year volunteering with CanU, and slowing down is one thing she won't be doing soon.

"You see the kids put things together and maturing," she said. "You see them make relationships with other kids from different schools, and it's really cool."

But Koop is also there to talk.

"The other day I was talking to a kid about puberty and how to deal with that," she said. "We talk about things going on at home, things going on at school. After a while, the kids really start to open up."

Koop also talks about bullying, a topic many kids struggle with on a daily basis.

"Bullying has come up a lot. There's a lot of it happening at school and online," she said. "It's a lot different from when I went to school."

So Koop tries to build friendships and instil confidence in each child by talking and playing games.

"At the beginning of the year, they're very quiet. They're not very talkative. But it's cool to see them build those relationships and that confidence talking to us as adults and talking to each other."

Koop's desire to help others stemmed from living with her parents in North Sudan.

On weekends, her family would visit refugee camps to check the facilities. Since Grade 2, Koop would also volunteer every Friday morning at the local orphanage.

"The orphanage would take babies that were left in Dumpsters or on the street," she said. "The orphanage would support these children in order to keep them alive."

The local orphanage had between 100 and 200 kids ranging from newborns to six-year-olds.

Koop's job was to play with the kids and help feed the babies. Although she can't remember their names, Koop can still see the faces of the children who stayed there.

"I remember the day this one little boy started to walk. I felt like I had taught him how to walk," she said. "It was such an exciting moment."

But Koop is hoping to teach kids in Winnipeg a different lesson.

During an exercise one night last week, the students were instructed to grab a partner and share their biggest dreams. Aside from living on the ocean and owning a bakery, Koop hopes her kids will chase after their own goals.

"I want them to be confident in who they are and feel like they can do what they want in life."

 

If you know a special volunteer in Winnipeg, please contact Elizabeth Fraser at fraser.a.liz@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2014 B2

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