Photo courtesy of Emilija Lafond Credits: Photo courtesy of Emilija Lafond
Volunteering in the community and supporting advocacy groups
An active volunteer, Emilija Lafond has given her time at a food bank, a soup kitchen and a Sunday school. But this young writer (who recently won a poetry contest at her school in Toronto) has been most instrumental in promoting Pen, a group that advocates for the literary freedom and human rights of journalists and writers around the world, many of whom are imprisoned.
She formed a school club for Pen, the first one in the Toronto District School Board, and organized events to recognize the importance of human rights for writers. Emilija's Me to We award money will be donated to Pen Canada and St. John the Compassionate Mission.
Canadian Living: You've made a difference in the world. What motivated you?
Emilija Lafond: I heard about Pen Canada at school when we had a speaker from Afghanistan. He had gone through so much and was penalized for expressing his opinion. My goal was to raise awareness of people who were being imprisoned and tortured around the world. As youth, our dedication to causes is more important than simply raising funds.
CL: Was there an 'Aha! moment' that reaffirmed your mission?
Emilija: I volunteer at St. John the Compassionate Mission in downtown Toronto. The people there are drug users and are on welfare, but you'll never hear them complain. They just want to talk to you for an hour when they're having their breakfast. You're their family and their comfort. It's more gratifying than you can imagine.
Page 1 of 2 -- Find out who received Honourable Mentions for Me to We's Social Action award on page 2
CL: So what's next for you?
Emilija: I'm attending Queen's University in September. I want to promote Pen Canada across the Toronto school district, as well as at the university level, and I want to find a little mission in Kingston to volunteer at.
Honourable mentions for Me to We's Social Action award
• Salina Dharamsi of Vancouver has served as a World Vision Youth Ambassador in Rwanda and as a United Nations panellist working on disaster risk reduction in New York.
She taught for three weeks in Guatemala, bringing more than 250 pounds of school supplies from her community to the country.
• Karim Ladki suffered a spinal cord injury that almost left him paralyzed. Knowing what it's like to not be able to move, this Vancouver thrill seeker created 9Lives Adventures, a travel company that offers tours for both abled and disabled adventurers.