“Maria is an incredibly dedicated volunteer and has had a huge impact on Saihan’s life.”
A 24-year-old from Southwark was named Volunteer of the Year by Sense for helping a 16-year-old with learning difficulties.
Maria Atanasoaei, a civil servant, has been friends with Saihan for eighteen months through the charity. During this time they have built a strong relationship through shared passions, including politics and disability rights.
Maria has helped Saihan build his confidence, social skills, and independent decision-making.
Prior to the pandemic, Maria and Saihan did weekly activities like watching movies together, going to museums, and participating in debates. They even attended history lectures on World War II, the British Museum, and the Houses of Parliament.
During the lockdown, Maria continued her weekly support and met with Saihan through Zoom. They spend this time helping Saihan prepare for an interview, learn how to use Microsoft Office, and view documentation.
The charity said it was a “clear winner” for the annual award, which has been running for seventeen years.
Richard Kramer, Managing Director of Sense, said, “We are delighted to name Maria our Volunteer of the Year at the 2020 Sense Awards.
“Maria is an incredibly dedicated volunteer and has made a huge impact on Saihan’s life making sure he learns new skills and realizes his potential.
“But more importantly, they have become friends and have been there for each other in 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, and at the same time improving someone’s life is extremely rewarding.
“Volunteering teaches you the value of small steps, small gestures, and how much difference they can make in someone’s life. For this reason alone, I want to encourage everyone to consider volunteering for any reason they may be passionate about. “