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(Jérôme Mireault For The Globe and Mail)
(Jérôme Mireault For The Globe and Mail)

The gift in giving

Samantha Zrobin: ‘My parents always taught me you can’t be handed things’ Add to ...

What inspires people to give? And what do they get out of it? We asked readers to tell us about people who make a real difference in their community, then asked experts in the science of altruism how their generosity pays off for more than just those they set out to help.

She has spent the past three years teaching in Tadoule Lake, a remote First Nations community of 190 in northern Manitoba that is accessible by road (a 1,432-kilometre drive from Winnipeg) for only two months in winter. The rest of the year, a nine-seat plane arrives twice a day, bringing much-needed supplies and the odd visitor.

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At 32, most people – even those with a strong calling to teach – would find such isolation hard to take. But Samantha Zrobin, who hails from Burk’s Falls, just north of Huntsville, Ont., almost seems too busy to notice.

As well as teach, she runs a “breakfast club” to make sure those who need it are properly nourished. (Her family recently mailed a care package containing cereal, pancake and muffin mix, as well as socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste).

A technology whiz, she also works daily to improve the tiny school’s spotty Internet connection, which serves the whole town. In the evenings she teaches night school, and every Thursday runs the Girl Guide program she started. (When contacted this week, she was in the midst of cooking a huge batch of French fries in preparation for a Christmas feast.)

Zrobin says a desire to help the less privileged was drummed into her and her three sisters – along with a strong work ethic.

“My parents always taught me you can’t be handed things – you have to work before things happen,” she explains. “I do a lot of food-related projects, such as the breakfast club, with my kids because I think if they’re nourished, they’ll be able to learn better.”

To see that learning become apparent – when students’ eyes light up or smiles flash across their faces – is immensely gratifying, she says. Last year’s night-school computer class included a girl, her mother and grandmother, “and seeing three generations, beaming with pride, was really cool.”

Looking ahead, Zrobin isn’t sure how long she will stay at the school, which runs from junior kindergarten through Grade 12. But for now, she “loves” it and is content “to take things year by year,” watching her students grow and learning more about herself.

“I came up here because I have an adventurous spirit,” she says. “I love to embrace new opportunities and help people along the way.”

But she also sees herself as part of a grander scheme.

“I want to play a role in our current generation just like people played a role in helping me in my generation. I want to keep the models going that my parents taught us as kids.”

Positive outcomes

Building positive character strengths such as kindness, citizenship and love can contribute to boosts in overall well-being and happiness. Kindness gives people a strong sense they’re doing something that matters and reminds us of our goodness. Also, because we are social creatures, acts of kindness are usually reciprocated with acts of gratitude and appreciation.

– The Canadian Positive Psychology Association

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