OCIC Global Changemaker 2015 Youth Ambassador
Heather Donald – World University Service of Canada
Heather Donald first became involved with World University Service of Canada (WUSC) in 2006 through its Student Refugee Program (SRP) while attending Carleton University. Started in 1978, the program helps young refugees resettle to Canada and gain access to university education.
In 2013, Heather spent three months volunteering in Malawi, providing pre-departure orientation sessions for SRP students from Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp who would soon be settling at universities and colleges across Canada. Her involvement at home in Toronto has been multifaceted: from helping newly arrived students integrate, to providing mentorship and academic support so students can accomplish their individual goals, to offering career counseling and acting as a reference after graduation.
Heather explains that she was first drawn to this cause by realizing how being involved with an individual life and making one-on-one connections can have very tangible effects: “It’s so rewarding to keep those connections over time and see people build their lives, and to be a part of that. I appreciate what I see as a spirit of reciprocity in this youth-for-youth sponsorship and a sense of global citizenship.”
After completing her Masters degree at York University (home to Canada’s only Centre for Refugee Studies), Heather initiated a much-needed research project that would formally document the results of the program. As part of the project, she contacted former students sponsored through the program – some of whom are now professors – to ask them about the experiences and challenges they have faced.
The results of her research will help increase institutional support for WUSC and the Student Refugee Program. She has already been instrumental in establishing a three-year tuition waiver for incoming WUSC students.
While the program focuses on providing educational opportunities for youth from refugee , Heather points out that it also has an impact on the Canadian-born classmates of the sponsored students—especially when it comes to “learning first-hand about development issues and the individual experiences of youth from refugee situations.”
Making a difference doesn’t require a specific skill set, she emphasizes—it can be as simple as reaching out to someone else. “Be the one to initiate conversations,” Heather suggests, “be a friend.”
She also encourages young people to look for opportunities to become involved with internationally-oriented events and to seek a broader global understanding, “especially of the issues that you feel pulled towards.”
“I would encourage people to ask more questions,” she adds, “and not to be afraid of hard answers, or of no answers—often it’s the questions that don’t have answers that create change.”
Share Heather’s story on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #GCMHeather