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Meet Sara, Volunteer and now Clinician
It’s National Volunteer Week and the theme for this year’s campaign is #CheersToVolunteers! Join us in celebrating our wonderful volunteers who all deserve applause for all their dedication, generosity and immense contributions.
Passionate about low-barrier mental health services: meet Sara Khatri
Lyari is one of the most densely-populated and vulnerable neighbourhoods in what is already considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Karachi. In this area of two million people torn apart by ethnic and political violence, Sara Khatri was working for a community-based non-profit, spearheading the first trauma-sensitive school system in Pakistan.
“While working with this demographic, I recognized the need for a more holistic, strength-based and trauma-informed approach to mental health. I became increasingly aware of this gap in my own professional training as a clinical psychologist and delved deeper into finding a creative way to bring all this together in the context of a non-western audience,” says Sara. “This work slowly became my passion, my labor of love, and my purpose.”
Image from dawn.com
Then life took a personal turn and Sara found herself living in Canada. “I spent numerous months searching for an organization to work with that could fill that void in the same meaningful way that my previous work did. And then I stumbled upon Stella’s Place,” she exclaims.
“The second I walked in through the doors, I knew this was the place for me: Trauma-informed, anti-oppressive with an integral focus on creating a safe, warm, and empathetic environment where everyone felt welcome. Everyone working at Stella’s Place shares a passion for creating meaningful change and an authentic sense of care and concern for every individual that walks in. This felt like home. I knew I wanted to become a part of this growing organization in whatever capacity I could. And so, I decided to volunteer!”
Sara volunteered as a clinician in our Walk-in Counselling program where her role was to provide single-session individual counselling. A typical afternoon would involve seeing 2-3 participants in a span of 3 hours. Each session would be 40-45 minutes long, followed by a pause for a consult with our Manager of Clinical and Recovery Services. Then Sara would spend another 5-10 minutes with the participant, providing additional resources that were brought up during consult. “The consult model was very helpful as it allowed for effective brainstorming in order to best help folks as well as enabling volunteers to feel supported and equipped with tools to do their job,” explains Sara.
Asked what was the most rewarding part of this role, Sara doesn’t hesitate: “Being a part of a low-barrier program!” She continues, “the mental health system is quite broken, to be honest. It deeply saddens me to see the lack of accessibility people have to mental health supports, even in a developed country like Canada. The wait times, the exuberant fees to see a counsellor, the lack of funding allocated to mental health in general – it’s terrible.”
The walk-in counselling program at Stella’s Place is striving to fill that gap by providing access to same-day counselling without a fee to any young adult that walks in through the doors. “Most of my sessions would begin or end with heaps of gratitude expressed by the participants. This was not only rewarding but also heartwarming,” says Sara.
“Through this experience, I learned to truly understand and witness the power of low-barrier mental health services. It’s the need of the hour!”
This January, Sara made the leap from volunteer to staff and joined the clinical team at Stella’s Place. As a Mental Health Clinician, her role involves providing individual counselling as well as facilitating and delivering group programs.
“COVID-19 has brought with it multiple new challenges,” explains Sara. “We’ve had to transfer all of our services to online platforms. While this hasn’t been easy, it’s also quite impressive to see how quickly we made this shift. I feel grateful to be part of a team that is so responsive and versatile.”
During these uncertain times, Sara reminds herself and all of us to be gentle with ourselves: “For me personally, the biggest challenge has been managing and holding space for my own anxiety and fears around Covid-19 and the social isolation while also supporting my participants, some of whom are struggling more than usual in these difficult times. We’re all doing our best and that’s a reminder I need to give myself every now and then. Hoping and praying for more stable and safer times!”
During Covid-19, we are supporting and growing our community virtually. We continue to serve all of our community members and have increased hours for our virtual Walk-in Counselling program to assist more people. Please help us meet growing demand here.
Currently, Stella’s Place does not have a formal volunteer program. We do, however, accept volunteers with specialized skills to support our operations as needed. Keep an eye out on our Careers Page for future opportunities.
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