Students Create Religiously Relevant Support for Students

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ayana Kawe’s drive to find support for Muslim students leads to creation of two Muslim chaplain positions

Ayana Kawe has been a part of an innovative initiative to bring about positive change in our campus community. Ayana provided leadership to establish the Muslim Chaplaincy Waterloo, with support from the University of Waterloo Chaplains’ Association, to provide services that are sensitive to the Muslim student experience. The Chaplains provide on-campus care sessions free of charge to those who need it.

A student could be experiencing anxiety about fitting their prayer schedule in with their class schedule and other demands...Someone without a background in the intricacies of the religious component might not be able to offer advice that works for a student in that situation.

Students now have the opportunity to speak to someone who understands where they come from in terms of religious beliefs and perspectives on life.  “For example, a student could be experiencing anxiety about fitting their prayer schedule in with their class schedule and other demands,” Ayana explains. Someone without a background in the intricacies of the religious component might not be able to offer advice that works for a student in that situation. These services are complementary to the other services available on campus. If a student who is meeting with a Chaplain, who is living with anxiety or depression they would also be referred to Counselling Services where they could receive the necessary level of care.

Currently the program is being completely supported by volunteers, everything from the logistics, to website design to the chaplains themselves. Ayana talks about how they have “a goal to hire someone full-time, because we want this initiative to be sustainable and have an impact beyond [the volunteer’s] time at Waterloo.” They are now fundraising to make this goal possible.

When we asked about the impact he is seeing from the initiative Ayana points out that one impact is “starting a dialogue and making people more comfortable speaking about mental health.” He notes that this is especially true for students with an international background. In his own experience being ethnically Ethiopian, as far as he knows, there isn’t a term for mental health in his native language, Oromo. Some of the effects of this that he has seen on campus range from students who are not comfortable speaking about mental health, to students who will brush problems off despite the impact that mental health concerns are having on them.

Ayana hopes that by helping people one-on-one the chaplains can help their students learn more about themselves and engage in self-reflection.

Ayana hopes that by helping people one-on-one the chaplains can help their students learn more about themselves and engage in self-reflection. Ayana’s ultimate goals are creating a healthy and cohesive Muslim community on campus, helping people become more comfortable understanding their mental health within the framework of their faith, and making the campus environment a more inclusive space. He also hopes that this initiative will set a precedent for addressing mental health in unique ways on campus. “Maybe this story could be the spark that stimulates someone else on campus to try something else that is unique and addresses mental health from a completely different lens,” he offers.

Ayana’s story is one of many University of Waterloo community members who are finding new and interesting ways to foster wellness on campus. To find out more about the Muslim Chaplaincy of Waterloo on campus, visit their website. To learn more about how you can be involved in initiatives that aim to increase wellness in our community or read other inspiring stories, visit the Wellness Collaborative website.

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