Volunteer Voices - "If you want to be a part of the community, try volunteering." - Meetu

Meetu facing the side showing her beautiful hair in the top left. Photo of her shaved head in the bottom left. Daffodils in the background

Meetu Saklani arrived in New Zealand from West India with a plan to stay three years. Eighteen years later, she is a thriving member of the community and credits much of this happiness to her ongoing volunteer engagement.

Meetu met her husband in Mumbai and before long he was off to New Zealand to pursue his masters in Hospitality while she achieved a Masters Advanced Diploma in Hotel Management in India. Moving here to join him, she started at the entry level as a housekeeper and receptionist despite her degrees and her time in a management trainee program.

After six months, Meetu began moving forward in her career and also made a move into volunteering in Queenstown when she joined Wakatipu Abuse Prevention. She took a three month course on counseling girls and women suffering from abuse and subsequently shadowed a counselor working the 0800 helpline. Once in a contributing role, she worked in a buddy system with another call counselor offering immediate kindness and deciding on the best course of action to get the caller to a safe place, coordinate medical and mental help, and determine if the police should be involved.

While Meetu loved helping the women and meeting people outside hospitality, the culture shock was immense and the stories profoundly sad. Upon relocating to Wanaka five years later, she decided to seek volunteering roles that weren’t as emotionally draining.

Based on her personal experiences with people confronting cancer, Meetu wanted to be involved in helping the cause and supporting those going through the battle. In Queenstown, she was involved with a rotating meal donation program and she loved hearing the excitement of cancer impacted families when they realized they would be receiving authentic Indian food for dinner.

Once in Wanaka, Meetu started volunteering for the Cancer Society by giving time to the Daffodil Day Street Appeal. After many years working on prep day and the day of, she was asked last year to organize the fundraising event for Wanaka. Meetu decided to give it a go, knowing that her background in hospitality management put her in good stead for the mammoth task.

Beginning three months in advance, the Daffodil Day Lead determines how many fresh flowers will be sold across seven locations, recruits 120 volunteers for the big day, engages with schools and businesses for donations, contests and raffles, coordinates furniture setup and removal, and plans for disbursement of any leftover flowers. Extra daffodils were definitely not a consideration as “having been through something traumatic themselves, people were very generous post-COVID” and they ran out by mid-day.

All of this was made manageable by the constant presence of people eager to assist, resulting in a very good experience for Meetu. “People are so openly helpful and you know someone is always there. They inspire me to keep contributing to what the community is giving.”

Meetu is also inspired by knowing that she is making a difference. Her impact is realized whether it is directly by seeing the immediate relief the face of a family as they receive a meal delivery or indirectly by reading reports of a local being flown for treatment with money raised by the Wanaka Cancer Society.

As always, I asked Meetu what advice she has for others considering volunteering. Her insight ranges from the big picture to specific tips and as a bonus, gives us a view into her motivations.

  • "If you want to be a part of the community, try volunteering. I have met people from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.”
  • “Just give it a go and you will eventually find a role for you. Just give one hour once a week to something that interests you and see how you feel for the next three weeks. If your first try doesn’t suit, you will find something else related.”
  • “Personally, my volunteering is very selfish. I do it just for my own needs because it makes me happy and then I smile at other people.”

Written by Susan Merriman, 2023

If you'd like to learn more about volunteering around Daffodil day, check out our website for roles, or learn more at https://daffodilday.org.nz/