A 24-year-old from Southwark was crowned disability charity Sense’s ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award for the support she has given to a sixteen-year-old with learning disabilities.
Maria Atanasoaei, a civil servant, has been buddied with Saihan through the charity for the last eighteen months. In that time they have built a strong relationship through shared passions, including for politics and disability rights.
Maria has helped Saihan build his confidence, social skills and independent decision-making.
Before the pandemic Maria and Saihan did weekly activities, such as watching movies together, going to museums and attending debates. They even attended history lectures about WW2, visited the British Museum and the Houses of Parliament.
During lockdown Maria continued her weekly support and met with Saihan over Zoom. They spend this time helping Saihan prepare for a job interview, learning how to use Microsoft Office and watching documentaries.
The charity said she was a ‘clear winner’ for the annual award, which has run for seventeen years.
Richard Kramer, Sense’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted to name Maria our Volunteer of the Year at the Sense Awards 2020.
“Maria is an incredibly dedicated volunteer and has had a huge impact on Saihan’s life ensuring he is learning new skills and can fulfil his potential.
“But even more importantly they have become friends and been there for each other during this difficult year which is amazing to see.”
Maria described the award as a ‘symbolic reminder’ of the power of volunteering.
“Knowing that you can spend your free time learning new things, doing new activities, whilst also making a difference to someone’s life is extremely rewarding.
“Volunteering teaches you the value of small steps, of small gestures, and how much of a difference these can make in someone’s life. For that reason alone, I would encourage everyone to consider volunteering for whatever cause it is that they might be passionate about.”