Fueling the fire to keep doing good

Young Manitoba humanitarians among recipients of Terry Fox Humanitarian Award

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Among the Canadian youth receiving the prestigious Terry Fox Humanitarian Award this year are two extraordinary Winnipeg university students.

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Among the Canadian youth receiving the prestigious Terry Fox Humanitarian Award this year are two extraordinary Winnipeg university students.

The yearly scholarship was first put in place in 1982 to honour Canadian icon Terry Fox and is funded through Sports Canada, the Canadian Heritage funding program and the federal government. It seeks to recognize youth who exemplify the values Terry Fox held through volunteerism and higher education.

The feeling of winning is still surreal for Katrina Lengsavath, a 20-year-old Canadian Mennonite University student. (Supplied photo)

The individual scholarships, valued at up to $28,000 per student over four years, will go to 17 students out of the more than 500 who applied. The feeling of winning is still surreal for Katrina Lengsavath, a 20-year-old Canadian Mennonite University student. She and 23-year-old Justin Langan are the only two to receive it in Manitoba this year.

“I can relax a little bit thinking about how to pay for undergrad, I can definitely dream a lot bigger than I was before,” she told the Free Press Friday.

Lengsavath wears many hats. She is studying biochemistry and music — a chance to feed her curious nature and her love for piano and dance at the same time — and serves as the CMU student council’s vice-president of communications.

She has worked with independent theatre company Meraki Theatre Productions creating playwriting workshops and youth camps, helped promote music as a form of advocacy with the Manitoba Choral Association and currently works with Project Pulse Winnipeg, an organization that helps get high school students interested in health sciences.

She knows she would love to work with kids after university, possibly in music therapy, sports medicine or neuroscience. Whatever she does decide, this scholarship will make it much easier for her to get there.

“Aside from the financial gift of the award, which I will look back on and cherish probably for the rest of my life, because it’s a pretty big financial gift, I feel like this recognition was also a sign, or some kind of reassurance, that all the quiet battles I fought really made a difference,” she said.

“I think a question I often ask myself is, if I experience something good, or if I experience a lot of joy from something, why wouldn’t I want that for somebody else?” – Katrina Lengsavath

A daughter of immigrants, Lengsavath speaks Thai and practises traditional dance. Upholding her Thai, Laotian and Chinese cultural background is important to her. She said being brought up in that environment informs her advocacy work today.

“For me, to be really proud of my roots meant that I could see the value of feeling accepted and celebrated where I was at,” she said. “And I think a question I often ask myself is, if I experience something good, or if I experience a lot of joy from something, why wouldn’t I want that for somebody else?”

This award is part of that desire to bring up others with her, she said. No win feels truly solely earned, but rather they’re shared by the people who have supported her through it.

“(The Terry Fox Award board) gave me a call and my mom was home with me. They called my home phone, and I’m in the process of having this conversation, and she’s sitting next to me and listening, and it’s just this really intimate, shared moment of excitement,” she said.

“Because I think for her, me winning this almost seems like it’s not just for me. And it’s a testament of the support I received from my community.”

Justin Langan said the scholarship will help him focus on that volunteer work, he said, along with his advocacy in several organizations, including the Canadian International Council’s local branch and the U of M’s Indigenous Student Association. (Supplied photo)

Langan grew up in Swan River. Being gay and Métis in a small community wasn’t always easy. He remembers high school as a particularly difficult time, marked with depression and anxiety.

However his time in Swan River helped him become the young man he is today.

“I’m sort of defined by where I come from, like anyone else is, I guess,” Langan said.

He currently spends much of his time in Winnipeg, where he was born. After graduating in 2016, he studied journalism and filmmaking at Assiniboine Community College, before coming to the University of Manitoba in 2020. There, he is in his third year of political studies, with hopes of going into post-grad studies and eventually becoming a voice in politics.

“Especially being someone who’s gay and who’s Métis, from the rural Prairies, I would like to become involved in the future with advocacy at a provincial level, when it comes to politics, especially for Indigenous people.”

He has spent much of his young life finding ways to support his communities, including helping establish youth committees for the Manitoba Métis Federation and founding a clothing brand that donates 10 per cent of each purchase to supports for Indigenous young people.

This scholarship will help him focus on that volunteer work, he said, along with his advocacy in several organizations, including the Canadian International Council’s local branch and the U of M’s Indigenous Student Association.

“I like to focus more on what it means to be an Indigenous young person, because a lot of it is just stigma, and I faced that stigma. And now I don’t face it as much, but nonetheless, I still faced it.” – Justin Langan

“We all know what we’re going through right now — money’s very, very tight, especially for me,” he laughed.

“So it’s definitely helped lift an incredible weight off my shoulders, which I think for any student, is just so helpful.”

In his spare time, he takes photos, paints and works out. He is also working to broadcast a series of archival-style interviews of Métis elders within the Parkland region that he hopes will inspire other youth to look to the elders in their own communities for advice and support.

He is happy to speak his truth and share his struggles with those who might be going through similar problems — “I got out of it, but I still hold those struggles within me,” he explains — but said he doesn’t feel comfortable being tokenized for those struggles by others.

“I don’t like being propped up as an Indigenous young person, I like to focus more on what it means to be an Indigenous young person, because a lot of it is just stigma, and I faced that stigma. And now I don’t face it as much, but nonetheless, I still faced it,” he said.

When asked how he’d feel about other youth looking up to him after receiving such a prestigious award, he said it is a big responsibility, but one he keeps close to his heart.

“I’ll wear it on my sleeve,” he said. “Being an inspiration, whether it just be for anyone, I don’t really care who it is, but if I can help inspire you (if you’re) coming from a rural or northern community, especially,” he said.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

 

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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