Volunteering: The Real Page-turner

Strength and InfluenceHelping Hands
Artwork by: Christine Domercant

Row after row of neatly lined up books meticulously arranged in alphabetical order. A hushed atmosphere punctured by the occasional child's laugh.

This familiarity and homeliness integral to my local library never failed to mystify me. Everything from the comfortable leather arm chairs to the coarse cheap fabric on the floor were staples of my childhood and invoked a welcoming sense of comfort within me. Despite the usual muffled stillness and silence, it was as if the walls of endless novels and magazines were constantly beckoning me towards them. From a young age, the mundane halls of my local library seemed to have a magical quality to them. They managed to be venerable, calm, and alluring all at once.

As I grew older, I gradually moved from the children's section with low shelves and floor cushions to scouring the YA romance novels to eventually the tables for quiet study where I had spent the majority of my freshman year in high school. Here I religiously visited the library almost every day after school and frantically caught up with the day’s homework. Arming myself with a brand-new number two pencil, I flipped open my wide array of textbooks and poured myself into work. Then, once I had finished my assignments, I would read for any remaining time, exploring the worlds of the Bennet or Linton household. Just like this, weeks passed like clockwork, until one day someone interrupted this repetitious monotony.

A smiley librarian tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a brochure introducing the library’s latest program, Reading Buddies. This was a literacy program for children to practice their reading skills where they were teamed up with high schoolers to help and encourage them to learn. I was initially hit with a wave of interest and curiosity. However, this was immediately countered by my strong disdain for children. I was reminded of my disastrous and exhausting babysitting experiences with my two younger cousins. But, despite this initial apprehension, my love for reading and the opportunity to teach proved to be too tempting, and I decided to sign up for the month of March.

When spring finally came around, I found myself leaving the comforts of the quiet study to revert back to the low shelves and colorful walls of the kids’ section. I sat on the floor cushions and was introduced to my buddy, who was not the wild toddler I had imagined. I had been partnered with a timid nine-year-old boy named Rahul who was so shy and easily frightened he barely kept eye contact. Sensing his anxiety, I softened the tone of my voice and gently prodded him with questions about his favorite books and authors. He eventually responded, telling me he loved to read Geronimo Stilton and also enjoyed books by Roald Dahl and Robert Munsch. After that our relationship took off as we read some of my childhood favorites like Matilda, The BFG, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Seeing Rahul’s eyes light up through the twists and turns of each protagonist made every session all the more valuable. On top of that, I felt truly honored that I was able to help guide him along his literary journey. Whether it was helping pronounce or define difficult words or even just discussing the book with each other, every step provided me with a deep sense of gratification. Rahul went from barely stuttering his name to acquiring a heightened sense of self assurance and newfound confidence when flipping the through pages of large novels. As such, I felt immense pride in both his accomplishments and also my own abilities. I felt as though I had finally shared the magic of the library and books I had admired for so long with someone else who truly appreciated it.

Rather than being solely consumed by the hectic busyness of my everyday life, Reading Buddies taught me to truly relax and enjoy service to others. I no longer solely viewed time at the library as a solitary activity but began to further appreciate my environment as well as the people around me. The neat, orderly arranged books complete with curled and looped titles all took on a new meaning for me now. I began to not only learn and study for my own purposes but also with the end goal of teaching and helping others. The little haven of books in my local library perfectly encapsulated my desire to continue volunteering.

As famously stated by literary icon Oscar Wilde, “the smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” My time at Reading Buddies allowed me to accumulate a wide set of small yet valuable acts of kindness and in turn acted as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Ameena Naqvi is in the 12th grade at White Oaks Secondary School in Toronto, Canada. Her hobbies include drawing, playing the flute, and reading. She has a passion for music and writing.

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