Volunteering at the hospital where she was born is not only rewarding for student Emina Glamocic – it has proven a meaningful cultural exchange.

Her niqab is the first thing people notice – but Emina Glamocic’s smiling eyes are what they remember.

The Muslim university student, 18, is one of the youngest of Sunshine Hospital’s legion of volunteers, rolling out the welcome mat to patients and visitors every Thursday.

The friendly teen says it is important to her to give back to the community – and what better place than the hospital she was born at.

She alternates between visiting the wards to take patient feedback in areas like food and cleanliness, and guiding people around the labyrinth of corridors.

“Surprisingly, people say they like the food – you always hear how hospital food is like airline food,” she says.

“People also say the doctors and nurses are here are great, really understanding and try to help you out.”

Emina, who is studying teaching at Victoria University, says the topic of her niqab is a regularly topic of conversation during her shifts, with patients curious about why she wears it.

But she says she doesn’t find the queries intrusive, and appreciates the opportunity to educate people about what the garment represents.

She is the only woman in her family to wear a veil covering her head and face, but not her eyes, while her younger sister wears a head scarf.

“I do it by choice, it’s not necessarily accepted in the Bosnian Islamic community,” she says.

“The first time I put it on, I just felt this peace and love for it that I didn’t know was possible. I did some research about how it related to Islam. It’s not just a symbol of modesty, it’s about giving you the power over what people know about you, what they see.”

She says her parents were uncomfortable with her decision to switch from a hijab, which only covers the hair and neck, to a niqab.

“They didn’t understand why I wanted to, and the hardest thing for them in Australia is the possibility of getting attacked,” she says.

“When I put it on, Islamophobia was starting to rise. People were against the hijab, let alone the niqab. It’s quite controversial to wear one even within the Islamic community.”

Her eyes lose their smile when asked if she has ever been on the receiving end of abuse.

“I’ve never been physically attacked, but someone knocked into me at a shopping centre once,” she says.

“I don’t know if it was an accident but they didn’t turn around to apologise.

“Other people have had digs and say things like ‘Do you think you are invisible?’ or ‘Go back to where you came from’. I say – ‘But I came from Sunshine Hospital!’”

She owns 30 jilbabs – the long headscarf worn under the niqab – in assorted colours, and chooses not to wear the black one in places like the hospital, opting for a less confronting shade.

Emina’s parents moved to Australia from Bosnia in 1994 during the war, which claimed the lives of her mother’s dad and her two brothers.

She says her mother has shared horrific stories of her past, which makes Emina even more grateful to have been born and raised in Australia.

“She doesn’t know how they (her brothers) died and there are people still searching for their bodies,” she says.

“I think it would be closure for her to find them – you don’t know how they died, what happened, where they are.

“I feel very lucky to be here. The things she went through when she was my age, I could never imagine. The war, losing all her family, and moving to a whole new country with no one but your mother – it would have been very scary.”

The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.

As a volunteer, Emina Glamocic is sharing her story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.

By making a donation on Emina’s behalf – and sharing her story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.

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