Growing up in the Philippines, Meriam Findlay didn't see many people volunteering. But in Palmerston North, volunteering has become a way of life.
"In New Zealand we're encouraged to volunteer," she says.
Meriam has been a volunteer with Palmerston North Street Van since 1995. She's undertaken a wide variety of roles including cleaning, buying supplies, serving on the committee and recruiting volunteers.
Every six weeks she goes out in the van on a Saturday night, helping stranded women get home safely, giving hot drinks and food to revellers and those in need, and providing a friendly face.
"I saw the need when I met some people one night," Meriam says. "A very lonely man separated from his wife. He just needed someone to talk to, as did a young woman who was suicidal."
Being able to strike up a conversation with anyone and showing empathy and respect are just two of Meriam's strengths.
"We always get remembered by some of the regulars who look forward to seeing someone to talk to."
Meriam is onto her second stint as president of the Manawatu Multicultural Council and spends time doing what she can to make migrants and former refugees feel welcome.
"Volunteering is not really common to Asian countries so there's lots of encouraging migrants to volunteer. You don't have to be paid to make a change, you just have to make yourself available.
"New Zealand has one of the highest rates of volunteering per population."
In 1989 Meriam moved from the Philippines to Invercargill and in 1993, she and husband Lew arrived in Palmerston North. She's motivated by getting to know people beyond a superficial level.
"I love people, I love to know what their experiences are and to learn from those experiences."
Meriam's philosophy is to give people hope their situation will get better.
"It might only be a small act of kindness you show to someone but you don't know the impact."
Meriam says Street Van is a chance to promote Palmerston North with visitors impressed with the care and compassion shown.
Meriam was awarded a Civic Honour Award in 2012 for her outstanding commitment to Palmerston North's migrant community and volunteer work with the city's economically disadvantaged. In 2017, her work with Street Van was recognised at the Volunteer Resource Centre Manawatu and Districts Volunteer Recognition Event.
Nominations for this year's Volunteer Recognition Event in June open on Monday, March 5.
■Volunteer roles available:
#675 Volunteer Interviewers. The Volunteer Resource Centre is looking for volunteer interviewers for one 9.30am to 1pm shift weekly. Duties include data entry, dealing with phone and in-person inquiries, and meeting with potential volunteers and member organisations.
Training and support is provided.
Good communication and computer skills, ability to relate to a wide range of people, and attention to detail required.
#539 Samaritans. Listen to callers who may be stressed, suicidal, lonely or experiencing family and relationship issues. You will work in pairs from Samaritans' call centre. Roster of two-hour shifts to suit the volunteer.
To find out more about these and other roles, visit vrcmanawatu.org.nz or phone (06) 354-6027.