Volunteering at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Pooja Anand, Volunteer Services Assistant and Team Lead, shows off the Museum’s Volunteer Tree.

April 10 to 16 is National Volunteer Week (NVW) – a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers. Here at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, volunteers are a vital and valued part of our team. Last week I had the chance to chat with three of our volunteers – Nicole Lacasse Brass, Dorothy Young and David Curran. All three have been volunteering since we opened our doors in 2014. They are retired and have committed a lot of the new-found time to their community by volunteering. They had a lot to say about human rights, the Museum, and why they volunteer.

Why did you want to volunteer at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights?

David: I wanted to work here because I saw the building being built and I was so fascinated by that part. The artist in me came out and I thought: “I’ve got to get in there. I’ve got to help people and help myself, too, seeing what human rights are all about.”  

What is your favourite part of the volunteer experience?

Nicole: There are two things that I really like to do. I love doing the school programs because I think the interpreters are extraordinary, and it’s fun to be in contact with the children and the students. The other place I really to work in is the coat check because we meet people from all over the world. And it’s so much fun to see people’s reactions, how much they enjoy coming to the Museum – I think that’s what I like most.

Do you have a favourite gallery, exhibit or spot at the Museum you’d like to tell readers about?

Dorothy: My favourite gallery at the moment is The Witness Blanket because it really shows in a visual manner the residential schools and the part our country played in that. Since it’s only here until end of June, anytime I run into visitors and they ask where they should visit, I say: “Go to level 6; see The Witness Blanket! It’s a blanket like no other blanket you’ll ever see.”

Tell us about a memorable moment you’ve had during your time as a volunteer.

Nicole: About a month ago, I was helping out a person who was giving a tour to some older people. We arrived in the Examining the Holocaust gallery and there was a German woman who reacted very, very emotionally. She started to tell us what had happened to her when she arrived in Canada. She had been treated horribly, because she was being called a “Nazi.” Then she said: “I didn’t even know what a Nazi was.” That made me realize that the people who arrived during the war were not necessarily well treated. She wasn’t Jewish; she was German, but that was a memorable moment.

Dorothy: One day we were upstairs in the big basket theatre talking about Indigenous rights in Canada with a group of very young students. One person accompanying them was a First Nations woman and she was an educational assisistant. When we watched the film in the theatre, she got visibly upset – I could see this from where I was sitting. When the film was over and the kids had left, I went up to this woman, sat down beside her and said: “Can I give you a hug, please?” She said “okay” and she cried in my arms. I whispered to her: “You are loved and you have rights, just like everybody else.” As she was leaving the building, she said: “Thank you for that, I kinda needed it.”

David: When I was scanning people’s tickets as they entered the Museum, I would tell them to make a wish in the Israel Asper Tower of Hope. I said this to one lady who was wearing a hat, and in response she took off her hat and revealed that she had lost all her hair – she was undergoing cancer treatment. She said: “I know what I’m going to wish for.” And then I said: “I know what I’m going to wish for!”  And afterwards I went up to the tower and made a wish for her.

Why is volunteering in your community important to you?

Dorothy: Ever since I was a child, volunteering was bred into me. I really have to thank my parents for that, because they raised me from a very young age to say: “You’re a part of this community, you’re a part of this world, you have to give back.” I can even remember volunteering as a very small child.

Why is it important to you that the Museum is a bilingual place to volunteer?

Nicole: It’s the only place in Winnipeg where I speak a lot of French. I speak French almost every time I come here. That’s very important to me because speaking French is who I am.