Quiet Inspiration at Sandalwood Park

Young volunteer proves that great challenges can be overcome

By Kristian Partington

Over time, Evalina DeOliveira’s eyesight has deteriorated. She can see well enough out of one her eyes but the other has started to fade. Reading isn’t as easy as it once was but of late, she’s been able to enjoy stories read to her by an unlikely young volunteer who visits regularly at her home in the Village of Sandalwood Park in Brampton. That Fatima Kalair can’t see at all is no barrier, for when she reads to Evalina, the braille she was forced to learn when she lost her eyesight as a young girl works perfectly fine.   

Norma and Fatima pose for a photo together
Norma Welton and Fatima Kalair have taught each other much through
their time together at the Village of Sandalwood Park.

“It makes me happy,” Evalina says, with a smile through her thick Portuguese accent. “I don’t see in one eye and she don’t see in two and it’s like we’re a set. When she reads me a book, it makes me so happy.”

Fatima has become a regular fixture at the village, spending time with various residents, reading with Evalina, for example, or helping Norma Welton with her knitting. She enjoys helping out with the chime choir and, though she comes across as shy and humble, she’s an inspiration to many of the village residents. They see her as a strong, young woman who, despite facing great challenges in her young life, carries on with a sense of optimism that all should aspire to achieve in the face of adversity.

“It really is something,” says Norma, who admits that Fatima doesn’t just help her with her knitting – she just does it. “She does a lot of things that I couldn’t even think of doing. I’m so proud of her - she’s a lovely girl.”

Norma must make an effort to improve her mobility as she gets older and she says Fatima inspires her to try and get a bit of exercise each day. Sometimes the two of them can be seen strolling along Main Street, supporting each other along the way.

Fatima visits the village as part of her ongoing education through a co-operative placement at Judith Nyman Secondary School, designed to help students discover new life skills and experiences through work placement. She may inspire the residents she’s grown close to, but Fatima says she’s learned much through the relationships as well.

“I’m learning about the differences in life older people have,” Fatima says. “A lot of older people have challenges with walking or learning different ways to do things.” She, perhaps better than most people, understands such challenges – she was nine when an obscure and virtually unknown medical condition began to take her eyesight. She still can’t explain why it happened, but she has persevered and smiles often, always looking for the positive in life and never backing away from the opportunity to try something different.

“I just kept going on with my life, learning other ways to learn, the same way as other students,” Fatima says. Much of the reason why she is a quiet inspiration for those she meets, especially her friends at Sandalwood Park, can be found in that simple statement.  

“She really is a wonderful person,” Norma says.