Photography by Colin Way Credits: Photography by Colin Way
Where she's from: Strathmore, Alta.
Award: Educator Award
Contribution: Inspired by a 2009 trip to Rwanda to learn about the genocide, Christine Magill, a teacher at Strathmore High School in Strathmore, Alta., continues to try to bring positive change to East Africa and to inspire those around her to better their own communities. Her most recent work was assisting women's and children's groups in Uganda—despite an accident that left her coping with chronic pain.
When was the first time you saw an issue and thought, I need to do something about this?
After visiting a genocide memorial site in Rwanda, I was approached by a genocide survivor who had witnessed the murder of his entire family. Some of the people who killed his family were in jail, but others still lived in his community, where he eventually returned. After sharing his story, he said, "I've chosen to forgive those who murdered my family. That's what you need to tell your students when you go home. Tell them to forgive. You can't live your life in hatred." I remember thinking, Here is a man, living in poverty, who has lost his family, and he's urging us to embrace forgiveness. That's when I felt I needed to do something.
Do you have a mentor, someone who inspired you to become a volunteer?
Both of my parents have always volunteered. But I'm especially inspired by my maternal grandfather because of the way he embraces challenges.
Was there a moment when you realized, Yes, this is what I should be doing?
After my first trip to Ghana, I was teaching a social studies program, telling stories about my time in Africa and the people I met. At the end of the course, a senior student came up to me and said, "I've signed up to volunteer in Malawi. You've inspired me." That's when I realized, If I can inspire one student, I can try to instill this same passion in others.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
I was hit by a truck while out walking my dogs. Because I live with chronic pain, I have to rest a lot more and plan my projects. When I'm in Africa, I can't offer to carry someone's heavy bags. I have to know my boundaries.
What trait or skill has helped you in your volunteer work?
My passion and excitement for what I'm doing. Being engaged with my students and learning from the people I've met overseas continues to energize me. This work has given me a passion for life.
Meet our 2015 Me to We Award winners for more inspirational stories like Christine's.
This story was originally part of "Everyday Heroes" in the October 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!