My Canadian happy place

March 15, 2017
By Maiko Taku
Maiko Taku

Six years ago, I immigrated to Canada to work as a live-in caregiver. I grew up in Japan, and I don’t have any family or friends in Canada. Since I was a caregiver, I didn’t even have a colleague.

I wanted to extend my world in Canada. I wanted to explore new places, meet new people and have new experiences. For this, I was looking for a volunteer position. I found the perfect opportunity at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto.

I love children, and I’ve been working with them for years, so it was natural that I wanted to volunteer somewhere where I can play with children. Before I came to Canada, I mostly worked with youth who were abused or in the care of an aid organization. It was a new experience for me to work with children who are dealing with medical struggles.

My first position at RMHC Toronto was volunteering with the Child Life program. Run by Child Life Specialists, the program helps families cope with the stress of illness and treatment.

I quickly fell in love with the program for how it listens to and respects the needs of each child. Even though Child Life Specialists plan activities for the day, if children are interested in doing different activities, they let them do it. I know the planning is not easy, the preparation may take time and the materials for the activity may go unused, but they don’t force kids to do the activity. Kids are the ones who lead the day. It’s a very child-centred approach and I love it.

In Child Life, I love that I can truly connect with the children. I believe that I can’t understand children if I watch them from the top down; I want to see them from the same level. I try to see their world from their eyes to understand them. I’m not a teacher, I’m not an instructor. I’m a learner who is always being taught by children. RMHC Toronto gives me these wonderful learning opportunities. This is why I love volunteering here.

I remember a girl who came into the play room, sat down next to me and said, “My brother died.” Her brother often came to Child Life, and we played games and made art together. I had just seen him the previous week with an IV and he made a chart to count down the days until he could take it off.

When his sister told me he’d passed away, I started to become emotional. But then I realized the girl in front of me was strong and calm. She was the one who would want to cry, to shout, to scream, but she wasn’t. I was very impressed by her strength. I knew it was a tremendously tough time for her and she had to digest all these difficult events in her tiny young body and mind, but she was doing it.

I learn so much in moments like these. I learn things at RMHC Toronto that I could never learn at school.

As my life in Canada progresses, I’ve made many friends and been involved in many activities. I now work full-time at a day program for people with disabilities, but still I continue volunteering at RMHC Toronto.

I came to the House to have new experiences and meet new people, but it’s become much more than that for me now. These six years in Canada have not been easy. Living in a foreign country by myself is tough. But whenever I see families smiling at RMHC Toronto, I realize that what we’re doing is important. I see kids playing with tubes on their bodies. They smile, they giggle, they grin and they laugh. Should I cry when I don’t have any tubes on me? No.

I don’t think I could’ve survived the past six years without their smiles.  

RMHC Toronto has a great impact on families, and those families have a great impact on me. Sometimes families will return to the House and say, “You’re still here?!” They may not remember my name, but they remember I was here, and that’s enough to make me happy.