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Law student volunteers her time throughout studies

Thursday 19 December 2019 9:23am

Norhan El Sanjak image
Graduate Norhan El Sanjak volunteered throughout her time at Otago.

A feature of law graduand Norhan El Sanjak’s time at Otago was continuing volunteer work in the community, which was both professionally and personally rewarding, and pushed her “out of [her] comfort zone.”

Norhan’s first volunteering experiences came in hospitals in Egypt, where she read to children suffering from cancer.

“I had heard horror stories about the healthcare in Egypt and wanted to help. My dad recommended starting small by volunteering to read to patients.”

At Otago Norhan was a founding member of “O-Red”, and served as the Red Cross student groups’ social secretary in 2017 and treasurer in 2018.

She also joined a Ministry of Education group offering bilingual support and assisting former refugees to transition into education, and spent time interpreting for the Southern District Health Board.

Experiences with RILAS and Community Law showed how relevant her studies were for “real-world” scenarios.

“I lived in Egypt for a few years when the Arab Spring surfaced and saw the dramatic effect it had on people’s lives – as a result I tried to imagine what our former refugees went through before coming to New Zealand. I wanted to do my part in ensuring they felt safe and that this was their home. Being a bilingual support worker and interpreter showed me that overcoming the language barrier is critical to those who are struggling – if I was able to use my skills to help make life just a little bit easier for a former refugee, then that was my day made.”

Norhan was able to combine her legal studies with her interest in supporting others through volunteer work at the Refugee Immigration Law Advice Services (RILAS), where she worked as a student adviser in family reunification.

Experiences with RILAS and Community Law showed how relevant her studies were for “real-world” scenarios.

RILAS also helped me land a job in a Refugee and Immigration law firm over summer, and helped me hone my personal skills as I dealt with clients from a variety of different backgrounds. Personally, while working with clients attempting to reunite their families, I was constantly grateful and thankful that my family is a flight away and I don't have to spend my nights worried if they will be okay the next day.”

Norhan also volunteered as a mentor for SOULS’ second-year programme, and in 2018 became the Colleges Officer for the Otago University Students’ Association, in addition to occasionally assisting with OUSA’s “Are you Okay” programme at student events.

She encourages others to try volunteering, pointing out it doesn't have to be something students “do regularly or are super committed to.”

“Otago taught me the importance of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and trying new things. I think my experience volunteering has shown me you gain a lot personally, and professionally, and you get to spend your free time knowing you are doing something meaningful and adding something to someone's life – before you know it becomes an addiction.”

In future, Norhan wants to use the skills and knowledge gained studying to make a difference in New Zealand's society by helping marginalised and underprivileged individuals.

“I'll be working in policy for the Ministry of Social Development and sitting my profs. I hope in the next few years I get to intern with the United Nations and do my master’s in Law.”