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Challenging perceptions

Student named YWCA Woman of Distinction for work with refugees

Student Life

By Michelle Osmond

A Memorial University graduate student began volunteering with refugee families three years ago. Nabila Qureshi has gone from making deliveries to making friends.

“When you actually meet a family, that’s when you realize there’s more to them than just words that are printed in an article which may just highlight what that refugee is going through,” she said. “When you meet them you realize they are individuals just like us; just like me and you and they just happen to be experiencing unfortunate events.”

For her volunteer work, Ms. Qureshi was recently awarded a YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community and Social Development. As a graduate student in the Division of Community Health and Humanities in the Faculty of Medicine, her research focuses on refugee youth’s early resettlement experiences in St. John’s, N.L.

According to the YWCA website, the award is given to a woman who is “helping to build a strong community by making positive change and advocating for enhanced quality of life for all, including those who face disadvantages/challenges.”

From deliveries to friendships

In 2015 the Association for New Canadians made a call for volunteers with Syrians arriving in St. John’s.

Ms. Qureshi’s involvement was basic at first, such as delivering donations to families. In January 2016 she accompanied another volunteer to a family’s home. She ended up getting to know the family members very well.

“An incessantly burning flame, regardless of its size and ferocity, ignites from a spark, and each and every one of us has a spark within us.” — Nabila Qureshi

She spent the rest of the year meeting new families, primarily Syrians — going to their houses and socializing, giving them information about what life is like in St. John’s, assuring them they’re in a safe place.

After that, her responsibilities diversified and she started volunteering with the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council teaching English to newcomers to St. John’s.

“While I feel elated to have won this award, I can’t help but remind myself that there were 33 other nominees who deserved it just as much as I did,” Ms. Qureshi said.

“These are individuals who have created, sustained, embellished and improved themselves, and those around them, in their respective fields of work. These are women who have devoted a considerable amount of time to persevere with their causes, and to be included among them is a feat no less than receiving the award.

“Having received this award, I am convinced that any woman, or anybody for that matter, has the capacity to create and bring change, whatever it may be, or however big or small it may be,” Ms. Qureshi continued. “An incessantly burning flame, regardless of its size and ferocity, ignites from a spark, and each and every one of us has a spark within us.”

Multiple awards

In addition to the Women of Distinction Award, between December and April, Ms. Qureshi received the YMCA Peace Medal (St. John’s); the City of St. John’s Building Healthy Community Volunteer Recognition Award; the Faculty of Medicine’s Medical Graduate Students’ Society Scholar and Community Involvement Award; and all three levels of Memorial University’s Volunteer Incentive Program in Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.


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