When Neelavannan Paramanathan and his wife Suganthini were asked to attend a school assembly, they assumed it had something to do with one of their daughters.
So it came as a huge surprise when Mr Paramanathan, known as Neil Para to many, was called on stage to receive an award along with a standing ovation.
Mr Paramanathan, who arrived in Ballarat with his young family in 2013, was presented with the Catherine King Award for Community Service for volunteer work at Black Hill Primary School.
While the refugee family from Sri Lanka continues to hope and wait for a visa, Mr Paramanathan is not allowed to work or study.
“I never expected this award, because I feel like there are a lot of people doing more than me,” he said.
“When I came to Australia I had an opportunity to do something, and whatever I can do I’m very happy rather than sitting at home – volunteering is my passion.
“The Ballarat community is awesome, I feel at home here.”
Black Hill Primary School assistant principal Penny Westlake said the school nominated Mr Paramanathan for the annual award because he went “above and beyond” for the community.
“He has always volunteered in any capacity he can since his children started at the (Black Hill) kinder in 2013,” she said.
“He is the first person to put his hand up for anything.”
Mr Paramanathan was recognised for his involvement at school events, including walkathons, concerts, sports carnivals, excursions and the Anzac Day march.
A passionate photographer, Mr Paramanathan is known to take photographs for the school newsletters, magazines and website.
He was also voted on the school council this year and participates in every school working bee and fundraiser such as sausage sizzles.
“Neil is known by many for his enthusiastic and determined volunteerism in our community,” Ms Westlake said.
“He is often spotted at school among the garden beds on weekends, weeding, pruning and whipper snipping to help keep our grounds and gardens looking neat and attractive.”
Mr Paramanathan also does volunteer work outside of the school, including landcare with Friends of Black Hill Reserve, as a member of the State Emergency Service unit in Ballarat, and through his graphic design and photography work.