SHAD’s top 16 stories for 2016 includes Rhodes Scholars looking to make living conditions better for indigenous Canadians
Waterloo - SHAD’s two newest Rhodes Scholars say they can’t help but reflect back to the past as they look ahead to a future at Oxford in 2017.
In a vote among the 15,500 SHAD Fellows, Neria Aylward (left) of St. John’s, Newfoundland, SHAD ’12 and Maike van Niekerk (below right) of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, SHAD ’12, were chosen as one of the top SHAD stories of 2016.
The two were named Rhodes Scholars making it 32 SHADs who have now been given the prestigious honour that’s almost one for every year SHAD has been in existence since 1980.
“I think it shows the type of people that go into SHAD (while in high school) and how the program can cultivate the individuals like it did for me to help reach their full potential,” van Niekerk says.
She adds, “SHAD cultivated the self-belief that I could make a difference and that I could take on projects that some people would think were a little beyond my reach. SHAD taught me to make the impossible possible and that’s what you need to become a Rhodes Scholar.”
Van Niekerk’s mother Katrin passed away from breast cancer when she was just 15, a year before she attended the unique Canadian summer enrichment program after grade 11. When she told other SHAD Fellows about her fundraising efforts in memory of her mother, the Fellows told her that her story was inspirational and encouraged her to share it with others.
So at 18, she started her own charity, Katrin’s Karepackage, cycling across hilly Newfoundland and training to run seven marathons in seven days proving many, who said she couldn’t do that, wrong. The charity has raised more than $110,000 to offset the travel costs of cancer patients living in rural communities.
“SHAD was one of the first times I had mentors and other individuals who were telling me to defy the odds and go for it. And if I fail, it’s okay, learn from it and try again,” van Niekerk says.
She took that mindset into her nursing and oncology studies at Dalhousie University where she worked alongside a professor to produce leading research that found higher psychological distress levels for people who have had a family history in Indian residential schools in Canada.
She has presented her findings at several international conferences. She says it is crucial to help change government policies and to find culturally appropriate ways to treat indigenous Canadians.
She hopes to get her PhD in psychiatry at Oxford to develop novel psychiatric treatment tools and bring that back to Canada for indigenous Canadians diagnosed with cancer.
“There are other people in the healthcare system who should be receiving the same sort of support my mother did and they are sort of being missed.”
Aylward, the other SHAD announced as a Rhodes Scholar has her sights on Canada’s north and helping the Inuit people in the Arctic. She says SHAD played a major part in getting her to where she is now.
Aylward went to SHAD in 2012 just after finishing grade 10. That year, the students were challenged to come up with an original product or service that could solve that year’s theme: childhood obesity. Her group designed a co-op food program for communities in Arctic Canada and they were named the innovators of the year winning the SHAD John Dobson Entrepreneurship Cup.
“While designing this project, we had to do the research and that’s where I realized for the first time just how staggering the inequalities are in northern and southern Canada. They are absolutely reprehensible,” Aylward says.
Now studying politics and social anthropology at the University of Cambridge, she spent this past summer doing field work in Iqaluit in Nunavut where she is looking at the impact that animal rights activists have had on the seal hunt. Aylward interviewed many of the most prominent Inuit activists who happen to be women.
“The Inuit don’t appreciate and understand the way the Europeans who have never been to the Arctic are telling them what to do when it comes to seal hunting. The Europeans call it barbaric when really it’s an Inuit way of life that stretches back millennia and it’s actually incredibly respectful.”
At Oxford, she is hoping to examine resource development in Arctic Canada.
“There is so much resource development going on right now especially because of global warming. Resources are becoming accessible because the ice is melting,” Aylward says.
“It’s a very emergent industry but I think it’s going to be a really important one.”
She is thankful SHAD set her on this path and says its crucial SHAD becomes more of a household name in the country because of the impact it is having.
“SHAD takes high achieving kids from all over the country and puts them in touch with one another and makes them better. It introduces you to so many different ideas. The program itself is really hard. It challenges you. But it really does open up this kind of spectrum of possibilities that a lot of times kids don’t even know exists,” Aylward says.
Other top SHAD stories for 2016 include visit to Buckingham Palace and two SHADs speaking at WE Day
Devyani Ambwani, SHAD ’14, was also singled out by many SHAD Fellows for her part in another top story for 2016.
Ambwani, of Fredericton, was invited to Buckingham Palace for the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Ceremony to share her experiences with the award’s founder Prince Phillip.
Ambwani, an engineering student at the University of New Brunswick won a gold medal. The award recognizes youth who are giving back to their communities, learning new skills, involved in sports, going on adventurous journeys which in Ambwani’s case included a trip down the St. Croix River. Her experience at SHAD McMaster was also recognized.
“SHAD strengthened my values and provided an exemplary environment that allowed me to flourish,” she says.
Other SHADs recognized for their achievements closer to home in 2016 included Vishal Vijay of Oakville, Ontario, SHAD Fellow 2016 and Mila Solaja of Toronto, Ontario SHAD Fellow 2016. The two spoke at WE Day Toronto to thousands of students and educators about making a difference in their communities.
Vijay raised more than $30,000 to fund local and international development projects aimed at lifting children out of poverty. One of the projects he is funding is a computer lab in northern India for street children. He also launched his own internship program that included SHAD Fellows to give teenagers hand-on experience.
In addition to participating in WE Day, Mila Solaja (left) won awards at the Toronto Science Fair, is a provincially ranked volleyball player, international folk dancer, and was in a special feature about SHAD in July in the Globe and Mail.
She also recently found out she has been accepted to Harvard.
“From We Day to the Globe and Mail, SHAD helped to share some of my accomplishments with the world. SHAD was a truly transformative experience,” Solaja says.
She adds, “It was an experience that familiarized me with a new way of thinking and questioning, creating and innovating.
A full list of nominees for top 16 SHAD stories for 2016 is attached.