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SFU staff member channels lifelong passion for community service
Zahraa Hawili has been volunteering in one form or another since she was in Grade 7. What started as an outlet for her as a shy and quiet child at school has grown over the years to become an important part of her life and identity.
“Who I am today is probably largely attributed to my volunteering,” she says. “It helped shape who I am.”
As she grew older, volunteering and making an impact became a passion for Hawili, who is an engaged member of the SFU and Muslim communities. During her time as an undergraduate student, she volunteered as a mentor and for the SFU Health Peers. In the last few years, she has become more active in her Muslim community in Surrey, in which she has served as a weekend schoolteacher and mentor, and is currently a mental health advocate. Just some of her community contributions include mentoring young Muslim women as a camp counsellor, delivering mental health first aid training as an active member of the Wellness Project, and volunteering as an SFU Peer Mentor.
“It became like a whole new way of helping people,” says Hawili. “There's no financial compensation—you're doing it solely because you want to help out in whatever way you can—and if I can help contribute to change I will try, regardless of what the role is.”
An SFU alumnus with a joint major in health sciences and English, Hawili now works as a Finance and Administrative Assistant, at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. Her commitment to volunteer work has earned her a Staff Achievement Award in the community contribution category, awarded for the giving of time and energy to foster goodwill and compassion for others.
For Hawili, volunteering and community engagement are vital to a well-rounded education and personal growth, providing valuable opportunities to apply new skills and explore different interests outside of study areas or job roles. She recognizes the value of formal education and is hoping to complete a masters degree in the future, but emphasizes the importance of complementing studies with community engagement.
“Education is great and gives you the basis and the knowledge, but your volunteering opportunities and your community work allow you to put that into practice and really learn,” she says. “There's just such happiness that comes from volunteering and not expecting anything in return. The growth and development that you get is just a plus.”