Zahraa Abdul Hasan
Kingston, ON

Zahraa faced many obstacles in high school that hindered her ability to complete her studies traditionally. She sustained multiple concussions, forcing her to take a year off to recover. Instead of discouraging her, the time in hospital inspired Zahraa to give back to her community.

Since the age of 15, Zahraa has been working with Providence Care Hospital (PCH). She spent summers mentoring high school students in the Summer Youth Program, where she led hospital-wide programs such as painting rocks, playing bingo, and going outside with the patients. Zahraa also hosted annual fundraisers like book sales, where the proceeds go to the Patient Comfort Fund (to provide patients with necessities not limited to clothes and toiletries).

In grade 11, Zahraa faced another setback in a car accident. She remained resilient by balancing her therapy appointments with full-time studies. Zahraa bounced back stronger and helped initiate the Friendly Visiting Program at PCH. As the Friendly Visiting Lead, she trained volunteers and advocated to combat loneliness, which is prevalent in the patient population.

Zahraa’s experiences have motivated her to pursue a career in healthcare, specifically in medicine. Her ultimate goals are to improve the quality of life and alleviate the pain and suffering she witnessed first-hand.

As Zahraa explains, “My experiences with being hospitalized for my injuries sparked my interest in volunteer work. I found it inspiring to see volunteers around me. They were among the first to welcome me and make me feel comfortable at my most vulnerable time. I specifically found it encouraging to see young volunteers my age. This prompted me to donate my time to my community.”

Zahraa is working towards her Bachelor of Health Sciences at Queen’s University.

Rhea Bhalla
Calgary, AB

Rhea was born with a speech disability which left her functionally mute for the first decade of her life. Through her role as an active advocate and member of the disability community, she aims to use her lived and volunteer experiences to advance disability justice.

Today, Rhea has founded national and regional support groups with the Canadian Stuttering Association and has lead workshops at their national conference. She has authored research papers in peer-reviewed journals, medaled at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, presided as president in her high school science club, and Rhea also volunteers at her local nursing home.

Rhea tells us, “For myself, and the many other Canadians with disabilities, our lives are shaped by the lasting legacy of Terry Fox, the most famous disabled person in Canadian history. In bringing awareness to the disabled community while facing immense challenges, Terry Fox redefined societal views on persons with disabilities. His achievements set the foundation for many others to break down the social and institutional barriers limiting persons with disabilities. By following in the footsteps of Terry Fox, I hope to continue the work [that is] so vital to helping our community flourish. In the future, my dedication to working with people with disabilities will guide my work as a physician committed to serving disabled patients.”

Rhea plans to begin her undergraduate journey at the University of Manitoba and hopes to pursue medicine.  

Maïa Feki
Chelsea, QC

In her quest for identity, she struggled to find her place in her new home, especially in her younger years. Growing up, she was teased and bullied for being different, and it took her years to rekindle a love for her Arab identity. 

Due to severe bullying in her youth, Maïa was forced to transfer schools. It was a move that allowed her to shine. She graduated from Collège Saint-Alexandre de la Gatineau, with the médaille d’excellence, which is a highly prestigious award based on overall GPA, and community involvement. 

While maintaining her grades, Maïa found the time to play basketball and coach basketball for an elementary school. During this time, she was class president, became a lifeguard, and was an ambassador for the Canadian Association for the United Nations. She also volunteered for the Maison Mathieu-Froment-Savoie, a non-profit palliative care center approved by Accreditation Canada.

She is now part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, representing her community at the national level.

“Being bullied represents the worst moments of my life, but I dared to take away positive changes from this situation. It made me a better friend since I never want people to feel abandoned the way I did. That is why I promised myself to prioritize others’ well-being which ultimately influenced my professional aspirations. Looking back on these obstacles, I can take away positive changes and use my wisdom to help others living similar situations,” says Feki. 

Maïa is hoping to pursue a career in medicine at McGill University.

Sophie Duncan
Wolfville, NS

Dyslexia has been a prominent obstacle for Sophie since she was a child. Throughout school, she has consistently needed to go the extra mile. Sophie also learned early, the importance of hard work, grit, and a positive outlook. The perseverance and resilience Sophie developed while coping with the challenges of her learning disability has now become one of her greatest assets.

Sophie’s actions speak of courage, initiative, and humanitarianism. In middle school, she was inspired to help others and travelled to Laos for four weeks, where she volunteered to teach English in a children’s hospital. Sophie has had leadership roles within the Special Olympics community, including Team Unified Basketball (an inclusive sports program bringing athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together), and as a coach with a local Special Olympics Swim program.

Sophie is an accomplished endurance athlete, competing in swimming, running and triathlons. She enjoys sharing her passion while coaching youth in these sports.

She shares; “Being active helps my mind and body stay healthy, stable, and motivated.  I was thrilled to compete for Nova Scotia at the 2023 Summer Canada Games in triathlon. I worked tirelessly for this goal. I needed to train twice daily while balancing school as a dyslexic student…. Due to my learning disability, I understand what it is like to struggle and feel that I can relate well to others who might also struggle for various reasons. I have learned to embrace differences in others. I get joy from helping others and have learned to give back to my community and school.”

Sophie plans to attend St. Francis Xavier University for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Isabella Gallo
Nepean, ON

When Isabella was 13 years old, she and her family left everything behind and fled to a domestic violence shelter. After moving out of the shelter, Isabella had to switch schools abruptly and rebuild her life, which include making new connections and friendships during COVID-19. 

Struggling financially, Isabella worked a part-time job to save money for university. In 2022, Isabella’s mom returned to school, leaving Isabella with more responsibilities at home. Despite her immense workload, Isabella nurtured her commitment to humanitarianism by volunteering with a hockey team, at her library as a part of the Teen Advisory Team, and many school events. She volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society, running two Relay for Life Events and beat the school’s previous fundraising goals. She also baked monthly donations for youth experiencing homelessness in her community. Isabella excels at school and has won several academic awards.

Isabella also brought positivity and encouragement as a leader in her school’s Student Council and school board’s Student Senate, where she focused on representing and advocating on behalf of students. She has also taken part in the Environmental Stewardship Committee, where she promoted practices which focused on the environment’s well-being.

For Isabella, “Homelessness was a peculiar feeling because it was the first place I ever felt at home. We had to leave everything behind and consequently started living below the poverty line. I am grateful for that shelter because it saved my life and helped me understand the importance of learning from obstacles. I promised myself I would give back and help those in need in the same way I was given help.”

Now that she is 18, Isabella plans to pursue her interests in human rights and fashion at university, to become a fashion designer and lawyer.

Joesh KhunKhun
Vancouver, BC

Joesh has ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia and has often felt misunderstood, frustrated, and stigmatized. His neurodiversity created obstacles in his academic, extracurricular, and social pursuits. It also impacted his mental health and sense of self. 

He volunteers with the Stigma Free Society as a Youth Ambassador, speaking to schools across Canada about stigma and mental health. 

Joesh is the Society’s youngest Stigma-Free Virtual School Presenter. He courageously shares his challenges and triumphs about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning differences with students across Canada. Joesh is also contributes to the development of lesson plans at Society. He has helped with ADHD lesson plans which have been implemented into the school curriculum. 

He utilizes his immense learning struggles at school and his firsthand knowledge of mental illness to empower peers. Joesh has delivered impactful presentations to almost 6,000 students across Canada. His words of encouragement about severe hardship brings hope to young people with similar challenges. He is also an influential TEDx speaker who promotes youth-friendly, connected, and healthy communities. As a public speaker, he has spoken for organizations such as The David Suzuki Foundation, Science World, BC Children’s Hospital, Punjabi Kids Health, and UBC’s Neuroethics Department.  It is rare to see someone of his age demonstrating the level of courage and leadership Joesh does while facing societal and self-stigma.

Joesh envisions, “In the future, I hope to continue to combine the power of public speaking, personal stories, and scientific information to reduce stigma, create hope, and move the needle toward a more tolerant and healthy society. I have been so fortunate to have been able to share my personal story in service of the greater good. This gave me a sense of purpose at a very young age and showed me that I could make a positive difference in the world just by being me.” 

Joesh plans to pursue medicine at university. 

Marin MacPherson
Quispamsis, NB

Marin was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at a young age, but that has not slowed her down. She participates in numerous community activities, sports, and academics. She has been highly involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in promoting awareness for juvenile diabetes and has led several fundraisers in the hopes of improving the lives of those with Type 1 Diabetes.

Marin’s challenges have been augmented by illness in her immediate family. These experiences have inspired her efforts to support her own family through employment as a lifeguard and swim instructor, and to give back to the community as a humanitarian. Marin volunteers with Beagle Paws, Flowers for Ukraine, as well as Sunday School and Vacation Bible School at her church. She has been recognized as a leader by SHAD Canada, French for the Future National Ambassador, and the Vimy Pilgrimage Award.

Marin believes; “To me, a humanitarian is someone who will fight for a fair and just world no matter the circumstances. Despite my challenges, or perhaps because [consequently, because of them], I am always the first to step up to offer a helping hand. Terry Fox and I both play basketball, are distance runners, high school athletes of the year, and determined people that face health obstacles, but I feel our true similarities lie in our drive to leave the world better than we found it.”

Marin will begin her Bachelor of Science in Engineering at the University of New Brunswick.

Siobhán Marie
Lindsay, ON

Diagnosed with Lyme Disease at thirteen, Siobhán faced challenges that made her believe it is essential to foster hope in other young people with disabilities. Although Lyme Disease affects her physical and mental wellbeing, she has learned to view her experiences as an opportunity for personal growth.

Siobhán’s advocacy for free menstrual products with the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association led to systemic change at the provincial level through a three-year grant. Acting as the Student Trustee for Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington District School Board, Siobhán has positively impacted over 15,000 students.

The COVID-19 pandemic limited everyone in different ways, but Siobhán viewed it as an opportunity to help the needs of marginalized people. She founded the healthy living program ‘Stepping Stones’, which promotes physical wellbeing, substance use prevention, and mental wellness. Siobhán has helped families in need by providing grant-funded recreational opportunities and donating to local breakfast programs.

Siobhán’s work in and outside the classroom is equally impressive. She maintained a 98.4% academic average in Grade 11 and 12. Her value for education is driven as well as exemplified by her goal to create educational inclusivity, which is evidenced by Siobhán’s extensive volunteering in the Special Education Resource Department of a local elementary school.

“My experience living with Lyme Disease, combined with my humanitarian efforts, has taught me that perseverance, empathy, and determination are instrumental in making a long-lasting impact. In honour of Terry Fox, I will continue to persevere and find positivity in my experiences to empower current and future generations of the world,” says Siobhán Marie.

Siobhán plans to pursue a career in education and looks forward to continuing her humanitarianism work while studying at Queen’s University.

Nyla Nasir
Barrie, ON

As the eldest daughter of a refugee who sought asylum due to lack of religious freedom, Nyla grew up thinking her identity was wrong since it had caused so much pain and loss.

Nyla has been active in student politics from a young age and was elected Student Trustee in grade 11. In her role, she has advocated on behalf of 50,000 students. Understanding the importance of education and mentorship, Nyla spent over 200 hours tutoring underprivileged children. She provided educational support to struggling children and their parents. This experience made her determined to ensure no one is left behind.

Being the compassionate person she is, Nyla noticed a lack of effective communication harming the well-being of children with special needs and others during summer camp. To resolve this, she researched and implemented more innovative programming such as how to make games and activities more equitable, the employment of visual aids for children with autism, and how to optimize schedules for children with ADHD.

During the pandemic, Nyla founded the Canadian chapter of Horizon Networks, a non-profit aimed at combating isolation faced by seniors in care homes.

As Nyla sees it, “Being a first-generation child comes at a heavy price. We have to bear the immense guilt that our parents left their home countries to give us a better life, which comes with huge responsibilities. It involves staying true to yourself and not losing your values while navigating the complex world of the multiple identities we develop. At times it was a struggle and drain on my mental health, but it helped me develop the resilience, focus, and determination to create a better future for myself and others.”

Nyla will be attending Harvard in Fall 2023. She aspires to become an OB-GYN to combat the stigmas surrounding female health in marginalized communities.

Dustin Neal
Caledonia, ON

Dustin’s world changed in 2017 when their single mother became disabled due to a workplace injury. Going from an economically secure foundation to one of low income required them to become creative and dedicated to overcoming adversity.

Additionally, Dustin has experienced and continues to experience various health issues. They have managed significant health issues due to seizures as an infant and toddler, have had repeated ear surgeries and speech therapies in childhood, and now have lifelong autoimmune disorders. These obstacles fuel their deep and sustaining compassion for others and were responsible for their desire to volunteer.

As a growing learner, Dustin established the first Gender-Sexuality Alliance Club and organized the Delegation of the United Nations at their high school, collaborated with the 4H Club, assisted as a volunteer swimming instructor at the local pool, and supported countless horseback riding lessons for people with disabilities at a nearby therapeutic riding barn.

Dustin shares, “While these challenges have impacted me, I recognize that suffering and disadvantage can catalyze personal growth and that hindrances are often strong motivators for change. My obstacles widened my empathy for others and were responsible for my desire to volunteer, and foster an environment of support, compassion, and hope for anyone facing hardships. There is always someone willing to help, and being that person strengthens my belief in interconnectedness and the kindness that can be woven into our lives.”

Dustin aspires to become a veterinarian, to provide affordable equestrian care through therapeutic barns and to offer health-based programming for people with disabilities. They will pursue their studies at the University of Guelph.

Shaina Rajwani
Coquitlam, BC

Shaina struggles with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy. She has experienced significant exclusion and has been overlooked in various situations due to her physical disability. As an empathetic, innovative, individual she advocates and perseveres and does not let this limit her opportunities. Shaina views her challenges as a strength, which allows her to lead by example, and bridge gaps in society.

As a member and Colony Scouter of the 13th Burnaby Ismaili Scouting Group, Shaina led a project where she educated youth on the importance of creating access to basic needs. She has also collected over 130 pounds of food for the Muslim Food Bank during the month of Ramadan.

She is also a Religious Education Teacher with the Ismaili Tariqa Religious Education Board, where she educates youth ages five and up on Ismaili Identity. This role has guided her own journey to self-acceptance and allowed her to model how to gain confidence in who you are, and how to believe in oneself and one’s own abilities, with her students and others around her. Shaina demonstrates how courage is not always a roaring voice; it can also be a quiet voice that says, “I will try again and not let my challenges define me.”

Shaina believes: “By acquiring knowledge in [neuroscience], I can help onlookers understand the extent of how various neurological challenges affect quality of life, and through my research findings, foster the awareness required to build a society that not only empathizes with individuals with disabilities but supports them in achieving their aspirations.”

Shaina will be pursuing a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience at Simon Fraser University.

Orion Remoquillo
Winnipeg, MB

Orion has Tourette’s Syndrome, which has created significant barriers throughout his life and made it a challenge to fit in socially with his peers, and at school. He has worked extremely hard to manage his condition through medication and therapy. Orion thrived in high school and worked tirelessly towards the inclusion of special needs students.

Orion has made incredible strides and improved his confidence and overall well-being in the past three years. He volunteered for over 600 hours through school and helped with Special Olympics. He continued to expand his humanitarian efforts by helping special needs students with many different activities, including crafts, karaoke, bike riding, board games, and providing support in gym class.

Orion shares how, “In my high school, I noticed some peers with special needs were isolated from the student body. Reflecting on my own experiences of feeling different, I decided to do something about this issue. This began my extensive work with special needs students in my school [when] I began my grade ten year. I began by volunteering during lunch hours to socialize during fun activities such as bingo and board games. These initial experiences gave me great joy and inspired me to find ways to include my peers in the social fabric of my school. When I started volunteering with the kids with Special Needs, I volunteered to make changes in their lives, but I never knew how much they would help change mine. Forming relationships with the kids and teachers I volunteer alongside with helped make me the best version of myself.”

Orion plans to study Physical Health and Education at the University of Winnipeg.

Nancy Shnoudeh
Aurora, ON

Nancy is an avid volunteer, having served on numerous committees during high school and created her own initiative, the Birthday Box. The Birthday Box is an initiative which curates exciting boxes and delivers them to paediatric patients on their birthday. Nancy plans to share the Birthday Box initiative with schools across Ontario to make it available to hospitals and patients across the entire province.

Nancy is also the President of her school’s Best Buddies chapter and Mental Health Council. She leads meetings and organizes events in both committees with the goal of creating more inclusive communities. Through Best Buddies she helps to nourish friendships between students, some of whom struggle with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Nancy has overcome her own challenges with mental health and recognizes that mental health struggles can be a prominent hindrance to student success. She is therefore committed to ending the mental health stigma so that every student feels valued and understood. Her work on the Mental Health Council is a first step to what she hopes to accomplish long-term.

Nancy is passionate about making our world a more inclusive place. She plans to engineer solutions to problems that impact human welfare. Nancy is an entrepreneurial-minded individual who aims to create a niche between STEM and humanitarianism.

Nancy tells us, “I am inspired by the potential to create positive change and [am] motivated to make these changes a reality.”

Nancy will be studying Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto in Fall 2023.

Sasha Wessels
Abbotsford, BC

In 2021 Sasha was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma in her left pelvis bone and lungs and faced a bleak prognosis. Sasha is now in remission after many cycles of intense chemotherapy, numerous sessions of proton and photon radiation, and a life-altering surgery.

During her cancer treatments, Sasha completed school courses online AND continued volunteering. She has created a social media presence to help teen patients get through treatment.

Sasha continued to serve her community through Girl Guides, Key Club, and her school’s leadership program. In April 2023, Sasha attended the Global Student Leadership Summit in London, Ontario, where she learned skills that will benefit her school’s leadership program.

According to Sasha, “My cancer took many things away, but it would not take my hope. This past summer, I was officially announced to be in remission, and I couldn’t be happier. I have always felt that one of my greatest strengths has been my ability to see the silver lining in difficult situations. Cancer has changed my entire outlook and perspective on my life and how I want to live it. I feel as though I have had blinders on to the real world until now, and I am ecstatic that they have been removed. This realization relates to a profound connection I feel towards Terry Fox.”

Sasha plans to study Political Science at UBC.

Sophia Young
Regina, SK

Despite facing racism, prejudice, and associated mental health challenges, Sophia has become an agent of change who demonstrates how every child can succeed.

As a strong advocate for comprehensive and equitable municipal environmental policy, Sophia wrote and recited a poem to Regina City Council. Due to her courage, Sophia was invited to the Community Advisory Group as the sole contributor under 18. Her advocacy helped achieve unanimous approval by the Regina City Council for its Energy and Sustainability Framework, which is Regina’s plan to become near-net zero by 2050.

Sophia wants to ensure nobody is left behind, especially marginalized community members. As the co-chair of Regina Energy Transition, Sophia has successfully led and advocated for fare-free public transit for youth under 13, which reduces transportation and financial barriers for families. Sophia has thrived despite adversity. She has earned twenty-two academic awards and finished Grade 11 with a 99.89% average. Her humanitarianism is demonstrated in her role as Chair of Miller4Nature Permaculture Club, Peer Leader for new immigrants with the Regina Open Door Society, and Co-founder of Worthy Purpose – a student action group that aims to address the structural roots of poverty, and as Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association (SWNA) 2023 Junior Citizen of the Year.

Sophia believes, “Although the journey is challenging, passion gives me the strength to persevere. I hope my story can inspire other youth to uplift their community despite their challenges because together we can build a better world.”

Sophia plans to study engineering at the University of Alberta.