Students Helping Students
Innis Students Support Student Refugee Program
By Joel Koroniak, President, Innis College Student Society
For almost 10 years, Innis College students have been digging into their pockets and making room in their busy schedules to give back to their community. They have not only showed others that giving can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but that their community doesn’t have geographical boundaries.
Through student levies, Innis students and the Innis College Student Society (ICSS) support the World University Services Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee program -one of the most significant charitable acts within the College.
WUSC brings student refugees from violent and war-torn areas of the world to Canada and with the help of sponsors like the ICSS, students are offered to study free of violence and fear.
A recent WUSC student, Sheila Htoo, is a perfect example of what students can accomplish once in their new environment. Sheila is a Karen, a minority ethnic group in Burma. Because of civil war, political conflict and a destroyed village, her family fled through the jungle across the Thai-Burma border and lived in numerous refugee camps in Thailand.
When Sheila was chosen to study at U of T, she not only faced a language barrier, but also the challenges of a new academic system. Sheila courageously overcame these challenges serving as an incredible example to her peers. Last year, through the Urban Studies internship program, Sheila worked in City Councillor Adam Vaughan’s office where she assisted councillor staff with daily constituency tasks through regular contacts and meetings with residents, stakeholders, urban planners, and city councilors. The internship gave Sheila the opportunity to apply her theoretical knowledge of urban governance and urban planning in the planning practice. It also helped her decide to pursue further studies –Sheila is currently working on her Master’s degree in Planning at U of T.
Sheila has made a great effort to give back to the community that welcomed her so openly. Sheila works part-time as a Karen-speaking Peer Researcher for the Government Assisted Refugees Mental Health Project and the Refugee Youth Health Project. She also worked as a Newcomer Outreach Worker and Medical Interpreter for Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Service. And still somehow she found time to volunteer as a Lifeskill Worker to assist newcomers from Burma as they settle-in and integrate in their new community.
There is no question that Sheila Htoo has made us all proud of supporting WUSC’s Student Refugee program.
Sheila Htoo at Graduation. June 2009.