GivingTuesday 2014 contest winner Gagan Leekha

We held a photo contest to celebrate GivingTuesday in Canada on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. We asked people send in their UNselfies – pictures that showed how they give back to their community. The response was terrific – visit our Facebook page to see the entries. Two people won a prize of $500 each to donate to a charity of their choice. One of our winners was Gagan Leekha, who entered this photo:

She wrote: Here’s a photo from this year’s World Refugee Day event with the most inspiring volunteer organizing rockstar dream team.

We wanted to know more about Gagan, and asked her a few questions about her work with World Refugee Day in Victoria:

How did you get involved with World Refugee Day in Victoria?

My friend and colleague Sharmarke Mohamed moved to town a few years ago after working with asylum seekers, migrants and refugees in the Middle East for 5 years. He was surprised to see that Victoria didn’t do anything to commemorate World Refugee Day and it was his contagious passion, enthusiasm and hard work that brought everyone together. 

What inspires you to volunteer?

I think there are a lot of ways to engage with causes that you care about and to create change in the world. Some people donate money, some people donate goods and services, and some people donate time. I work for a non-profit and I can see the benefits of people’s generosity everyday. I like to think that non-profit organizations are really run by the community because without donations of time or money, the work wouldn’t be possible. Volunteering is important to me because it shows that people care for one another and in a culture that is focused on individualism, it demonstrates the dependence we have on each other.

What’s your favourite part of volunteering? What do you get out of it?

I enjoy the community building aspect of volunteering, and feeling like I’m a part of something that is meaningful and making a difference. Working with the organizing committee for World Refugee Day didn’t feel like work at all as we had a lot of fun together. Our meetings became dinners and colleagues became friends. Everyone was so committed, I learned a lot from other people’s experiences and it was cool to see what we could create with everyone’s different ideas and skill sets. 

What would you tell others who are thinking about getting involved in their community but aren’t sure where to start?

Use your skills and passions to create the change that you want to see in the world, and work with people that you like working with. Also, Volunteer Victoria has a lot of great resources – I would start there. 

You’ve indicated that you want to direct your prize to the Victoria Refugee Sponsorship Group. What is it about this work that inspires you?

The volunteer group that has been working to raise money to sponsor a Syrian family of five (with 3 children under the age of 9) is a tremendous inspiration to me. I imagine what it would be like to have to uproot and leave my home because of violence, and I imagine what it would be like to resettle in a new culture, leaving behind everything that defined me and everything that was familiar to me. 

I don’t know the family that is being sponsored, but I already feel connected to them. I can imagine them arriving in Victoria and being welcomed by an already established community of people that have been working tirelessly to bring them here to start a new life. 

The $500 is going towards a holiday “gift”-giving campaign with a goal to raise $5,000 for the family by the end of this year. The idea is to make a donation to help provide for basic supplies (clothing, dishes, school supplies, bedding etc) for the family’s first year in Victoria. I hope people will consider this as an alternative to traditional gift-giving this holiday season as many of us (but not all) in Victoria already have everything we need. For more information: