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The Joy of Serving People
I want to bring attention to individuals who dedicate themselves to serving the people in their community. They simply don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Gajay Selvarajah
Settlement Worker
Canada
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To all my fellow community workers, Thank You!!

Ever since I could remember, I had wanted to be a teacher. I think teachers have the best job - inspiring young minds.

However, around the time I was in grade 11, teachers were being laid off and the fear of not finding a job set in. After much consideration, I let go of that dream and decided to explore other career choices.

As grade 12 approached, I had to make choices – on the university and program I wanted to pursue. I made the decision to attend University of Toronto's Scarborough Campus because it was close to home and most of my friends decided to go there. I thought business management was the right choice for me at that time. However, first year was tough. I had a lot to learn about economics and programming. I realized my brain was not wired that way. It was difficult for me to get good grades in those courses. In my second semester, I took Sociology as an elective. I still remember the first day. I walked into the biggest lecture hall and there must have been about 500 students. I was overwhelmed but I walked in and sat somewhere in the middle. The prof. walked in, looked around and said “Ok, let's begin”. I don’t even know how time flew by - the 2-hour lecture seemed liked it lasted only 20 minutes.  That course piqued my interest and shifted my career path. After much consideration, I changed my major to Sociology. That was one of my best decisions. I looked forward to my classes and meeting the professors who were so passionate about their work. I did well in my courses and enjoyed going to lectures. I had an opportunity to work on a study one of my professors were conducting on the Tamil community. I think this study solidified my career choice in becoming a social worker.

I graduated with a Sociology degree. I was lucky enough to get a job right away at a non-profit organization. In the beginning I worked as a youth worker in schools (I guess my dream of becoming a teacher was somewhat fulfilled by this). I worked with youth in a marginalized neighbourhood. This was an eye-opening experience for me. After that, I moved onto working with children and families. I started as a receptionist and spent the next 9 years there moving up to the role of a supervisor. I had the opportunity to help many people in different ways. Every time I helped someone solve a problem they were facing, my mind and soul felt full and content. I felt like I had the best job because I was able to help people and enable them to solve their problems. I also had some amazing individuals around me who had dedicated their lives to helping people. They inspired me every day. My Manager at that time was about the same age as my mother, she was kind and gentle. She taught me how to really listen to people and give people the space they need to express themselves. My co-worker who had dedicated her entire life to working with people and still came into work every day excited and proud to do her work. These people really made me believe that I was on the right path.

This experience led me to another position, where for the first time, I had to work with people who lived well below the poverty line. I had to sit down and talk to people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from (yes this is the reality even in a country like Canada). I learned that at the end of the day, everyone wants to be respected and treated as an equal. As the manager, I had to interact with a lot of difficult clients, and one of the things that I learned is that everyone wants to be heard. As soon as you sit down and listen to them, their anger goes away and you begin to see the real person.

I loved interacting with the people who came to the centre every day; they all had so much to share. I really enjoyed interacting with seniors - they have so much wisdom and fun stories to share. Once again I was really inspired by a co-worker who had worked with the Food Bank for over 10 years. She had a gentle way of dealing with people. She treated everyone the same and truly loved her job. My Senior Manager was an enthusiastic person who just loved what she did. Even though she was offered jobs from places like the City of Toronto and United Way, she chose to stay at a community agency. At this organization, I met staff who were not only dedicated to their jobs, but were really passionate about it.

Working in the non-profit sector has taught me many valuable life lessons and to appreciate what I have even more. If I had not taken sociology as an elective course, I don’t know where I would be today, but I am so glad I shifted career paths. I cannot imagine myself in any other role than as a Community Worker. I am proud to be serving the people of Scarborough for the past 16 years. 

This is my journey and I wouldn't change it for the world. I wanted to write this article to shine some light on community workers. We work for low wages and put in unpaid overtime because of the difference we can make in someone’s life. For some, we are the only family they have. They tell us everything and rely on us as social support. This is particularly important at a time like this when there is uncertainty and fear. We are one of the many pillars holding up the community and our clients rely on us heavily to keep their lives in order.

I want to bring attention to individuals who dedicate themselves to serving the people in their community. They simply don’t get the recognition they deserve. I want people to take a moment to recognize all the community support workers for their hard work and dedication - especially at a time like this.


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Gajay Selvarajah
Settlement Worker | Toronto
Canada
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