Student recipient of Governor's Michigan volunteer award aims to help Syrian refugees at the University
LSA freshman Sikander “Sonny” Khan, a volunteer at his local hospital, nursing home and high school was recently named the state of Michigan’s 2016 Youth Volunteer of the Year — though in an interview, he said hates award ceremonies.
“I hate the process of them,” he said. “I like seeing results as opposed to just getting an award.”
Khan received the Youth Volunteer award at the Governor’s Service Awards, a ceremony dedicated to honor Michigan residents, programs and businesses which have gone above and beyond in their goals of creating a lasting and positive impact across the state of Michigan, according to the Michigan Community Service Commission’s website. In addition to the Service Award, additional honors such as Corporate Community Leader and Senior Volunteer of the Year are also given out annually at the awards ceremony.
Khan said he is appreciative of the honor, but added he tries not to focus as much on the title as the results of his volunteerism.
“I obviously consider it very humbling,” he said. “It’s a cool opportunity to be honored and be recognized for my hard work. But I don’t get too caught up in the (award).”
Khan said his volunteer work began in 2013 during his sophomore year of high school, when he filled out his application for the National Honor Society, an organization that recognizes high-achieving high school students. One of the admissions requirements was to perform a certain number of hours of community service.
It was then, he said, that he realized he had to do something productive with his time after school. He added he quickly found his answer in a local diabetes clinic in his hometown of Jackson, Mich. that evolved into another opportunity at Allegiance Health Hospital. Khan was acquainted with the hospital; he had spent time there in 2011 during his freshman year of high school when his father was treated for a debilitating stroke that forced him to give up his family transportation business.
“I was trying to figure out what I’m good at and what I should dedicate my time to,” he said. “I made it a goal to volunteer 20 hours that summer. I ended up doing 100.”
Since arriving at University of Michigan this year, Khan said he has not had time to return to those places at home to volunteer. Instead, he said he is focused on finding issues that he is passionate about changing here in Ann Arbor.
“Since I’ve gotten to UM, I haven’t been able to go back to the hospital or the nursing home,” Khan said. “So I’ve been seeking other opportunities … One of my goals at Michigan is to get as much as I can out of my four years here and have as big of an impact as possible.”
One of the ways Khan has found to make an impact is through the Syrian Orphanage Sponsorship Association, a student group centered around raising funds to sponsor Syrian orphans who have fled the country because of the current Syrian conflict. Syria is currently in an ongoing civil war which grew out of an uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
“The whole refugee crisis to me, I thought it’s been mishandled very badly,” he said. “If I joined (SOSA), I could help children around the world and impact their lives, which seems like a really cool opportunity.”
Khan cited Germany as a leader in refugee policy compared to the United States. He said he prefers Germany’s inclusive approach to taking in refugees over what he called the meager policy presented by the United States, especially because of its much higher capacity for space compared to Germany’s. According to Bloomberg, Germany took in 1.1 million refugees in 2015. According to The New York Times, the United States reached its goal of admitting 10,000 refugees in August of this year.
Khan said he has ambitious plans to help the cause of Syrian refugees in the United States, including reaching out to national companies and speaking to high schools about the issue.
“I’m going to try to contact the biggest names in the country and find anyone I can to push this message,” he said. “If I’m doing something, I want to see what’s the ceiling I can reach.”
In addition to his involvement in SOSA, Khan is also on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Advisory Board for the DEI plan, University President Mark Schissel’s initiative to increase diversity and create an inclusive environment on campus. According to the University Student Life website, the board aims to offer student perspectives on the implementation and assessment of the plan.
Khan said he was motivated to apply to the board due to his desire to jump start an initiative he had been planning since high school to put low-income high school students on equal footing with those of higher socioeconomic status when applying to college.
“I wasn’t able to bring that idea to high school because I didn’t have enough time,” he said. “But I’m trying to figure out how I can work it into Michigan. I saw the opportunity (of the SAB) and knew that it fit exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m passionate about all of those issues.”
Referencing his own volunteer experiences to give advice to other students who wish to get involved in similar work, Khan said students should seize each opportunity to work on what they are passionate about.
“If you’re passionate about it and can do something about it, you should definitely take that opportunity,” he said. “A lot of people would love to have that chance.”