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It was a stellar evening for McGill at the 8th annual Forces AVENIR Gala on September 28 in Quebec City. Honouring students from universities across Quebec for exceptional leadership and community projects, McGill had its best Forces AVENIR to date: sending nine finalists to the gala and receiving five awards including the prestigious Project par Excellence.
Project Re-CYCLE, headed by Katrina Harris, was the recipient of the AVENIR Project par Excellence trophy and a $15,000 prize for an initiative that enables Kenyan bicycle-cabbies to become owners of their vehicles. Following an in-depth study, Harris, who graduated with an Honours degree in economics last year, concluded that 81 percent of drivers were earning less than their daily living costs. Project Re-CYCLE aims to eliminate the bicycle rental costs, a goal that will translate into a 25 percent income subsidy. The spin-off from the extra income can then help these entrepreneurs in the malaria- and AIDS-riddled nation to afford proper medical care. Managed by her organization, The Health Economist Group, Harris will invest 100 percent of the award to the community to transform this research project into a reality.
"What continues to be overwhelming is the realization of just how much this award can contribute to the development of Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya," said Harris.
McGill students were recipients of two other project awards. In the Health Project category, Community Health Action Partnership (CHAP) received a $4,000 grant. The CHAP initiative introduces medical students to local organizations in the most destitute communities across Quebec to assess their medical needs. Conceived by medical students, CHAP has been lauded by community organizations and will be officially integrated into McGill's faculty of medicine study program in 2010.
In the category of Mutual Aid, Peace and Justice, the Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC) received the project award in the Mutual Aid, Peace and Justice Category. Established in 2005, the AIC has created a shelter in Pune, India, where 11 children between the ages of six and 14 now live. In addition to attending school, the children are provided a familial atmosphere that fosters hope and fellowship.
Two McGill students were recipients of the $4,000 grant awarded to individuals who demonstrate outstanding leadership skills. Currently completing her doctorate in immunology and microbiology, graduate personality awardee Lina Kalfayan is a goodwill ambassador of humanitarian aid. She volunteers with the Maison Marguerite women's shelter and with the Red Cross. After witnessing the ravages of the 2004 tsunami that struck India, Kalfayan visited the country twice and took part in the reconstruction efforts. She applauds the Forces AVENIR initiative, "If today's youth look beyond their personal and academic targets and make the choice of contributing to the welfare of the world," she said, "the youth of tomorrow will live in a better world."
Samuel Vaillancourt received the undergraduate personality category. He leads a fight to raise awareness and funds to rid Haiti of tuberculosis. The inexhaustible Vaillancourt is also a devoted tutor with Horizons, a tutorial project for underprivileged youth in Montreal. A volunteer with Community Health Action Partnership he also helps develop family strategies and AIDS prevention in the West African country Burkina Faso. Currently enrolled in a Masters degree at McGill, Vaillancourt says he dreams of becoming a researcher capable of addressing the health needs of individuals within the larger context of society as a whole.
The remaining four finalists, each recipients of a $2,000 grant, include Yunlu Shen. A candidate in the personality undergraduate category, Shen is an engineering student and co-publisher of Output, the Faculty of Engineering student magazine. Putting her building skills to use during a recent visit to Gansu, China, she helped to construct a pedestrian bridge for local villagers. A social advocate, Shen remains instrumental in the creation of annual conferences for women engineers of the future.
Innocence Montreal was a finalist in the Mutual Aid, Peace and Justice category. Assisting the wrongfully convicted in their quest for freedom, 27 students from McGill's Faculty of Law collaborate directly with prominent criminal lawyers to seek new evidence to help liberate the wrongfully imprisoned.
Aprender Canada was nominated for the Society, Communication and Education category. Founded in 2004 by five McGill students, Aprender Canada is a pedagogical initiative dedicated to teaching English in Chile to help stimulate economic development. This year, 14 McGill volunteers will intern as English teachers in Santiago.
In the Health Project category, the McGill Journal of Medicine was also a finalist. The biannual journal was launched by McGill students in 1994. The publication connects faculties of medicine from around the world and offers medical students an opportunity to publish their research.