The fantastic four

The fantastic four McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 10, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 03
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The fantastic four

The projects and people are diverse--from bringing marionettes to Montrealers to bringing computer literacy to the Philippines. However, McGill's four finalists for the fourth edition of the Forces Avenir awards gala are all motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.

Forces Avenir is a foundation set up to recognize university students who devote their time and ingenuity to projects that contribute to society. McGill students will be contending against university students from across Quebec in the categories of Arts, Literature and Culture; Mutual Aid; Peace and Justice; Communication Education and Society; and Undergraduate Personality (there are nine categories in all.)

This year, the four finalists and McGill's other nine nominees were feted in a reception on September 25. Raising awareness of these awards is a priority for Dean of Students Bruce Shore. In part, this is to encourage students who might be eligible to apply, but Shore also feels it is important that McGill recognize students who contribute to the larger society.

"Forces Avenir is not about their personal achievements--it really recognizes students' contributions to the outside community."

The Scala Project, run by the McGill Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, is the McGill finalist in the Communication, Education and Society category. Scala Project founder Louis Dorval said the nomination was welcome news.

"We had been turned down by so many companies for funding, we weren't expecting anything from anyone. It was a nice surprise," he said.

The Scala Project was supposed to bring computers to two areas in the northern and southern parts of the Philippines. Dropping off a pile of hardware isn't much use if the new owners don't know how to use it, so Dorval and his colleagues spent 58 days this summer in the south-east Asian country teaching Filipinos the ins and outs of computers, in order that their pupils could go in to teach other Filipinos.

Scala Project members prepared for their new educational role by teaching at a local YMCA and the Atwater library, instructing ex-cons and elderly people on how to use computer technology.

Dorval explained that he and his fellow engineering students--nine in all--weren't even sure they would be eligible, since the bulk of the work happened after the application deadline had passed. While in the Philippines they filed weekly reports to the Forces Avenir Foundation--in between floods, shipping delays and red tape. They also were not able to deliver computers to the southern part of the country due to rebel activity there.

Teaching is what Samuel Vaillancourt, Joël Thibert and Université de Montréal student Geneviève Létourneau do as well--albeit more as facilitators than educators. The "Horizons" founders are nominated in the Mutual Aid, Peace and Justice category for their innovative tutoring project.

The project places volunteer tutors drawn from the student body of Collège Jean-Eudes in Rosemont with students from Saint-Nom-de-Jésus elementary school in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The goal is to provide young students from a poor neighbourhood with role models--young people who will finish their secondary studies and go on to higher education.

"We wanted to do something where we could have an impact, and we figured that education was an extremely important area where we could do that," explained Samuel Vaillancourt.

The project does more than provide tutors--Vaillancourt said that Horizons' aims to create links between the teaching and administration levels. One teacher from Rosemont designed a history project that had Saint-Nom-de-Jésus students researching the history of their neighbourhood.

"One student in that project got to fly to Newfoundland for a conference. His parents had never even flown before," said Vaillancourt.

Being nominated for awards is old-hat for Naomi Lear--not that she's any less thrilled.

"I get excited every time--it hasn't reduced my nervousness at all," said the nominee in the category of Undergraduate Personality.

The only list longer than that of the awards the Psychology graduate has won (YWCA Young Woman of Distinction, Students' Society Co-ordinator of the Year, Gretta Chambers Student Leadership award) is the number of groups to which she has devoted her energy. These include help lines, Big Sisters, and McGill Tutorial services.

Next year she will be attending the University of Toronto as a medical student, but she has deferred her studies for a year to work full time as the co-ordinator for the Yellow Door's Elder Project, which assists elderly people to live independently. What motivates her to spend so much of her time helping others? She said it's an obligation of being part of a community.

"The accomplishments that I am most proud of are not listed on my CV or recognized by my awards; they are the connections that I have established with women and children who have reached out for help."

McGill's fourth nominee--"The Puppet Project"--was nominated in the Arts, Literature and Culture category. This group is made up of McGill and Concordia students--none of whom had a puppetry background. Most of the members are out of town, including Clea Minaker, who is now studying puppetry in France.

The Forces Avenir awards will be presented in a Gala Ceremony on October 10.

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