Wednesday, April 26, 2017

School volunteer honours his daughter's memory

By Louise Kinross

I first met Yoonus Mia in 2003. I’d bump into him in the hospital walking beside a child in a helmet, feet strapped onto the pedals of an adapted bike. He was a volunteer in the Bloorview school. He was also a retired elementary school teacher and principal. We talked about what’s kept him coming back to work with Bloorview students for 14 years.

BLOOM: You started off with kids in the integrated education and therapy classes. What did you do?

Yoonus Mia: I was with the very little kids and we did everything from helping them in the classroom to helping feed them a snack. A highlight was helping them achieve whatever they could with the bikes. They would practise while we talked to them and showed them things in the hospital. Some of the kids were very vocal. That was a big lesson. I had to pack my assumptions in a bag. These children can do all kinds of things, but you have to have the patience and the time to do it.

BLOOM: Now you’re working in a class with children with complex disabilities.

Yoonus Mia: Every day is a challenge learning how to work with different students. Some days I’ll be doing math with a student and other days I’m encouraging a child to touch things or doing hand-over-hand painting.

BLOOM: Some of the children don’t speak.

Yoonus Mia: They communicate by letting you know what they want with a look on their face or a nod or a wink.

BLOOM: You had a daughter who came to Holland Bloorview.

Yoonus Mia: That’s the real connection, but because I become a little more emotional about these things, I tend not to mention that. My daughter Anisa was disabled as well. She came to what was the Hugh MacMillan site for respite care, and she was fitted for orthotics and a special seat for her wheelchair. Anisa passed away when she was 16. We cared for her the best way we could.

Sometimes I think back and wonder, could we have done things differently now? With modern technology a lot more options are available. Knowing this place through my daughter was my motivation to volunteer. I started about six months after I retired. It was a chance for me to give back and it helps me as well.

BLOOM: Can you tell us a bit about Anisa?

Yoonus Mia: She had cerebral palsy. She also didn’t speak. But we knew exactly what she wanted. There were ways she would communicate with us that she was tired or hungry. She went to school every day. She enjoyed going out for drives and she enjoyed music. Sometimes she wasn’t well because of seizures. We have another daughter, Nadia, who was younger, and we cherish fond family memories of our time with Anisa. We did our best and it was great to have her in our life.

BLOOM: It sounds like she changed your life in many positive ways.

Yoonus Mia: Yes, we are connected to our past and connected to all sorts of things. Anisa used to receive care at a recreation program at Columbus Centre run by Barb Germon, who is a social worker who works at Holland Bloorview now.

Sometimes volunteering here makes it more difficult for me, because I think of my child. But I don’t carry it on my sleeve. I sense something about these children who are so vulnerable, and it’s rare to have a school like Bloorview. This is my small way of giving back.

BLOOM: What do you get out of your time with our students?

Yoonus Mia: It’s the little things you have to watch for, and that I’m fascinated with. When you’re with the same student for several weeks you suddenly notice growth: Oh, he can do this now. When a child looks at you and smiles to say ‘I get it, I can do this,’ that’s the real treat and benefit of being around. In this program every little thing counts.

BLOOM: It sounds like you’ve adopted this as a philosophy.

Yoonus Mia: That’s what it’s all about. One of the other benefits is I met my friend Peter Sandiford, and we have lunch together. Peter is a nice man.

BLOOM: We just had a celebration for Peter’s 80th birthday, to recognize the many years he’s volunteered here, and I learned all kinds of interesting things about him.

Yoonus Mia: He was a photographer, though he isn’t able to do that anymore. He’s another example of someone with all of these challenges, but he enjoys life the best way he can. When I come on Tuesdays I’m exposed to Peter and the children and it helps me.

Learn more about Holland Bloorview’s volunteer program.


I think that volunteering here as a way to pay tribute to your daughter is wonderful and we are so fortunate to have you here. Thank you from everyone you help.