SAAAC Volunteers: Our Rising Stars

Posted on: April 25th, 2017 by SAAAC No Comments

Neeliya Paripooranam

Hi my name is Neeliya. I was born in Sri Lanka and raised in the Netherlands. I believe life is all about pushing yourself. That is why I came to Canada to push myself outside of my comfort zone and experience a new environment and meet new people. When I was preparing to come here, I knew my Canadian experience needed to include SAAAC too. My degrees are in psychology, so for me autism is just one of the many disorders people are born with. When my nephew needed to get diagnosed, I experienced firsthand how his diagnoses were delayed because of the stigma that is associated with disorders and disabilities in the South Asian community. So for me volunteering for a culture- sensitive organization that helps children and young adults with autism seemed like the perfect fit.


I started volunteering for the ABA-program on Tuesdays in February 2016. One year later, I still enjoy volunteering for SAAAC. It is inspiring to see how much of a difference the passion and hard work of the staff, volunteers, parents and students make in the lives of the parents and students themselves. The students have taught me to look at their abilities as they keep trying to work on new skills, even if it is a slow process at times. Moreover, SAAAC had given me the confidence to co-lead the classroom, something I never thought I would do when I started volunteering here. One thing I am sure of: volunteering for SAAAC has enriched my Canadian experience. I am definitely going to miss all the students, staff and volunteers when I go back home in the summer!

Shaira Wignarajah

In 2011, I started volunteering at SAAAC. The reason? I was a high school volunteer who wanted to reach my 40 hours. But little did I know, six years later, I would still be volunteering at SAAAC, without a second glance at my hours record. Every week, I work 1:1 with a child, helping to develop various skills surrounding their speech, behavior, and learning, amongst many other daily life skills. I am not on my own, because every member in the room is always willing to lend a hand when I am unsure how to handle a situation. So, together, as a team, we work to help the children integrate better into society, whilst conquering the stigma associated with autism in the South Asian community.


I believe in surrounding myself with people who inspire me, and SAAAC is filled with volunteers who do just that- motivate me. Seeing volunteers put in 100% effort in the weekly 90 minutes they have with a child inspires me to stay focused and go above and beyond to change the lives of these children. Seeing the children overcome their own individual barriers and learn new skills teaches me the importance of hard work and commitment to better learning. And last, but not least, watching SAAAC grow as an organization, catering to more families and offering more services than ever before, inspires me to think bigger and work harder to achieve my goals. So, thank you SAAAC, because every week that I spend with you inspires 22 year- old me to become a better me.

Cindy Sabescumar

My name is Cindy and I’ve been volunteering with SAAAC since November 2015. I help out with the Monday Arts and Crafts Corner for beginner and advanced students. These sessions are the highlight of my week! Not only are they fun, but it also reaffirms my passion to get into the field of Art Therapy. I just finished my Psychology degree and I’m looking to apply for a Masters in Art Therapy to hopefully give back to the community and inspire artists – young and old because it’s never too late to get creative!


Aravinthan Selvarajah
My name is Aravinthan and I enjoy volunteering at SAAAC because of the welcoming community of people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis. I have been volunteering for over a year and have spent most of my time working with Kokulen. I have shared many fond memories with him and he has helped me grow as a person, which has been a pleasure! During my time at SAAAC I have had many opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and recognize my passion in working with the kids and adults here. SAAAC has welcomed me with their warm and friendly staff, parents and fellow volunteers, and I am proud to be a part of this team.


Sahana Jeyakumar

I’ve volunteered with the South Asian Autism Awareness Center for the past three years and it has been by far the most educational experience of my life, supplementing my background and interests in culture and mental health. I’ve learned a lot about autism and seen firsthand the limitations and barriers that the kids face. However, the most important lessons I’ve learnt is what it
means to be compassionate and persevere by watching the parents and caregivers with their children. By meeting the families and hearing their stories about raising a child with autism while facing barriers such as newcomer status and low income, my understanding of what it means to raise a child and the purpose of it all has changed.


The dedication that the staff has to raising awareness and providing support has taught me about advocacy and the true essence of leadership. I’ve been able to connect with my own community in a greater capacity and am very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me along the way. The staff have worked to enhance my volunteer experience, constantly nurturing my interests and skills by involving me in all the different undertakings of the center. It was at SAAAC that I was able to obtain the confidence I needed to pursue my career path because of the support and network that I had access to. I hope to be just as passionate and dedicated in my own endeavors as the families, volunteers and staff I have had the pleasure to work with.