The Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is proud to award the 2016 Marcel Côté Leadership in Community Service to Olivia Tran. A master’s student in international development and global studies at the University of Ottawa, Oliva co-launched the innovative Roofs for Refugees initiative in Ottawa this past winter.
For Olivia Tran, the idea to launch Roofs for Refugees was driven by the pressing need to find affordable housing for the many refugees expected to arrive in Canada. After consulting with various local shelters and housing and refugee organizations — including Refugee 613, under whose aegis the project operates — this unique online platform was launched to match housing offers with newcomers in the Ottawa region. “The service organizations were particularly worried about how they were going to find appropriate homes for newcomers. I gathered a team of amazing and dedicated volunteers, and together we launched Roofs for Refugees. We got to meet and work with some incredibly dedicated NGOs and people, and built a community-based initiative run entirely by volunteers.”
Building Roofs for Refugees from the ground up was no small feat. Olivia says that it was a unique learning opportunity. “I got a taste of what it is like to start and run a non-profit, how to communicate via the press/media, answered calls for interviews, helped to coordinate the team in Ottawa and Toronto, and developed a housing placement model in consultation with community organizations. I also learned about the important issue of affordable housing, which affects so many cities in Canada. Most importantly, I learned that if there is a social issue that you care deeply about, there is always a way you can help out.”
The Roofs for Refugees’ success relied on the collaboration of dedicated volunteers and Olivia’s leadership. When asked what it takes to lead a needs-driven community project here in Ottawa, Olivia says, “I’ve never seen myself as a leader, but I learned that anyone can be a leader, with dedication, an open mind and a little bit of guts! I used my listening and teamwork skills, as well as my planning and organization skills to get Roofs for Refugees off the ground.” Whether it’s donating articles of clothing or hosting a refugee family at your home, she believes there are many ways to drive positive change. “It’s important for uOttawa volunteers to demonstrate leadership and collaboration in solving community needs because every little bit of effort helps.” “As students, we are in a unique position to help — we have flexible schedules, we can count the volunteer work towards credit if it’s part of Community Service Learning, and we are in an open learning environment that is perfect for engaging in community work.”
It doesn’t stop here for Olivia. Currently completing an international internship, as well as a master’s in international development and global studies, she expects to rejoin the Roofs for Refugees team when she returns to Ottawa this fall. Her dedication and leadership in coordinating the volunteer-led Roofs for Refugees truly captures the late Marcel Côté’s community spirit. Congratulations Olivia, on winning the 2016 Marcel Côté Leadership in Community Service Award!
Meet Houda Halwani, a third year social sciences student who volunteered with the uOttawa World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Local Committee this past academic year. This spring, Houda received an “honorable mention” from the 2016 Marcel Côté Leadership in Community Service Award for her student strong engagement.
“The beginning of my involvement with this club could most easily be described as a lucky match. I remember sitting in an optional course the first week of school, when a representative of the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement walked into class to present a Community Service Learning placement opportunity that the course was offering. A placement with the WUSC uOttawa Local Committee stood out because of the unique work that they were offering to students: an opportunity to assist and help transition sponsored refugee students attending the University. It was a combination of the two fields I am most passionate about, education and humanitarian work. I could never have imagined the impact it would have on my university experience.
“Joining such a team gave me and continues to allow me the opportunity to push myself and take initiative in causes that are important to me. The activity I am most proud of having accomplished with the uOttawa WUSC Local Committee would definitely be the referendum we passed to increase the student levy dedicated to the Student Refugee Program. The levy is what allows our committee to fund the sponsorship of two refugee students to resettle in Canada and pursue their education at our university. We worked tirelessly throughout the year to accomplish this task, raising awareness about refugee issues and the program, while also collecting the necessary 1,500 signatures to simply get our referendum proposal approved for the elections. I am not only proud of the passing of the referendum because of the great effort put into ensuring its success, but because it reflects on the students’ openness to welcoming refugee students to our university and provides an example of how students can support students.
“Volunteering has been a huge part of my life at university, and I truly believe that it has shaped and enhanced my university experience in more ways than one. I developed many skills that have helped me in my studies, and in my professional and personal life. I was able to further my leadership and organizational skills, and widen my perspective on important issues happening around the world, all through practice and support from my peers. To summarize, volunteering gives you a real sense of the community around you and allows you the chance to be a part of something beyond yourself. It gives you a perspective that you could take with you to any field of work. There is really no downside to volunteering, so my advice is certainly to just go for it and let the magic happen!”
Many students don’t know that their program has a student association or that there are dozens of clubs with various interests both on- and off-campus. Take the time to learn more about these great opportunities. Check out your faculty or program website or the SFUO club listings.