Spreading happiness is important for 2017 Youth Volunteer of the Year Gary Ho. The Hong Kong-born University of Waikato student accepted the accolade from Volunteering Waikato last month for his work with refugees.
Judges at the Volunteering Waikato Excellence Awards praised Gary for “his genuine interest and care in showing refugees how to navigate New Zealand culture and society”. Despite being so deserving, Gary is still surprised to be recognised for his community work. “I never thought about winning this award,” he says. “I feel blessed and I am truly flattered.”
Gary volunteers not for recognition, but to help his community. “The refugees, elderly and teenagers I assist come away feeling happier about their lives in Hamilton,” he says. “Accomplishing this and seeing their smiles is always priceless.”
Gary’s studies reflect his passion for the wellbeing of his community. He is completing his thesis for a Master of Social Sciences in political science and international relations, having previously completed his Bachelor of Social Sciences at Waikato.
He ranks his university experience highly. “The University of Waikato has the best students and teachers in the world,” he says.
Raised in Hong Kong, it was there that Gary first left his comfort zone and began volunteering in 2010, working as a public advisor for a government entertainment regulatory agency. In 2015, he began work in New Zealand as a Refugee Support Volunteer with Red Cross, where he helped a family from Somalia integrate into New Zealand society. Since then he has worked with Hamilton City Libraries, Hamilton City Council’s H3 Group, the University of Waikato through the Employability Plus Programme (EPP) and Good News Community Centre. He's now an EPP ambassador and volunteers at the university's Eco Emporium.
Once he completes his masters thesis, Gary wants to pursue research and analysis on politics from all over the world. He notes Hong Kong, Chinese, East Asian, South-East Asian, European and American politics as key areas of interest.
Despite his busy study schedule, Gary is still finding time to help his community. Recently, he has volunteered for refugee support, distributed street flyers, delivered books to homebound individuals and helped out at the Chiefs vs Lions rugby match in Hamilton last month.
Gary hopes his win can inspire others to volunteer. “In this world, many people are suffering and waiting for someone’s help,” he says. “That someone might be you.” He encourages others to not limit themselves in their volunteering. “There’s a quote from John Quincy Adams, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader’.”
Are you a student who wants to become a leader in your local and international community? Check out the University of Waikato’s Employability Plus Programme and start volunteering.