New cohort of Peace Innovators ready to cultivate community change

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Student engagement is an important part of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement’s mission to advance expansive and innovative understandings and practices of peace. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, youth have continued to be a resilient, driving force in community change. With an increased willingness to challenge the status quo and keenness to consider fresh perspectives, students have a distinct and important role to play in social innovation.

Katie presenting at Peace Innovators retreat
The Centre has been privileged to engage and equip some of these youth through its partnership with Kindred Credit Union and The Ripple Effect Education (TREE) over the past three years through the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program. This program allows high school seniors to dive into a local problem they are passionate about and develop an initiative to address it. The 2020-2021 cohort is already hard at work. On August 22 and 23, 2020, a group of nine passionate students gathered physically and virtually for a kick-off retreat, marking the official launch of the 8-month program. Participants spent time learning about tools for equity-centred community design and mapping their next steps as they begin their innovation journeys.

Meet some of these remarkable young people and learn about why they are excited to become peace innovators:  

Hana Adham is a grade 11 student at Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School, with a passion for racial injustice. She will be focusing on racism in the school system, and how it is internalized on both subconscious and conscious levels.  With larger reach potential because of the increase in online opportunities, Adham is looking forward to making a difference in her community while getting to know other young changemakers in the Waterloo Region.

Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute student, Maria Khan, is in grade 11 and has been passionate about mental health for a long time. She has seen many peers struggle with mental illness, and has recognized larger trends among young people. Maria leads her school’s Mental Wellness Student Council, and wants her initiative to focus on advocacy in the education system. Khan is looking forward to learning from program mentors, as well as the other peace innovators, about how to enact real change.

Jennifer Li is alsoexcited meet and learn from other peers who have chosen to participate in this program and who want to make a difference. Li is concerned about the prevalence of homophobia and how it is addressed in the education system. This grade 11 student from Sir John A. Macdonald is focused on homophobia and transphobia in schools, gearing her initiative toward inclusivity, acceptance, and education.

Heraa Muqri is interested in an issue she believes does not receive enough recognition: mental health. A grade 11 student from Craig Keilburger Secondary School, Muqri sees mental health as a hurdle that especially affects youth. Murqi is excited for the collaborative nature of the program, as well as the opportunity to watch her peers’ initiatives develop.

Peace Innovator partiicpant reading from a binder
For Aidan Morton Ninomiya, a grade 12 student from Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, participating in climate action is very important to him. Morton Ninomiya is passionate about political activism surrounding climate change and bringing awareness to important environmental concerns. He is excited about the program because he believes it can help him make more progress on a critical issue.

Alienation in the lives of teenagers is a significant problem to Oscar Rada, a grade 12 student from Sir John A. MacDonald. Drawing on personal struggles and perspectives with mental health, he will use first-hand experience to inform his initiative. He believes that remote learning has made his project even more attainable.

Hailing from Cameron Heights, Saaniya Saraf is a grade 11 student ready to improve local environmental sustainability. A specific area of interest for Saraf is single use plastics, which motivated the app she created, “Tap Waterloo”. This app takes the municipal approach of locating all the drinking fountains found in the city. With the Peace Innovators program, Saraf wants to focus on what students can do on a personal level, which she emphasizes can be just as effective. Saraf is glad to be in a group of young people who are excited to be a part of active discussions about innovative ideas.

Also from Cameron Heights, Hamad Sultan is passionate about mental health and mental illness. From observations he has made about high suicide rates within the university context, Sultan is interested in how to develop a proactive, preventative approach.

Marina Wheaton, a grade 11 student from Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School, is eager to raise awareness about the problem she is focusing on. Wheaton is addressing poverty, with a local focus on Kitchener-Waterloo, and wants to harness the power of her school’s communications channels. She is looking forward to going through the process of carrying out an initiative in her community: learning new things, sharing ideas, getting feedback, and implementing it.

Katie Gingerich, Executive Director of TREE, expresses her excitement for this cohort of peace innovators in saying, "Participants are bringing enthusiasm and care for their work and each other into this cohort. Alongside their community mentors, I'm excited to support them in their peace innovation journeys this year, especially as they navigate building connections with their communities."