Featured in photo: Meghrig Karamanougian, a local high school graduate headed to Wilfrid Laurier University in September, is this year’s winner of a scholarship jointly awarded by United Way Centraide Canada (UWCC) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

SPOTLIGHT ON EXCEPTIONAL YOUTH

September 5, 2019 / By: Nancy Harper, United Way WRC Editorial Content Creator

After less than four years in Canada, this Syrian-born teenager is now a “powerful voice for youth”.

With her birthplace destroyed by war and her family’s future hanging in the balance, Meghrig Karamanougian became one of 50,000 Syrian refugees seeking shelter and renewed hope in Canada in recent years.

Along with her parents and two brothers, Karamanougian arrived in Waterloo Region with no connection to the customs or language, and unable to imagine what a future here might hold for her.

Yet less than four years later, she’s already proving her future is very bright indeed.

Karamanougian is the recipient of a prestigious post-secondary scholarship presented jointly by United Way and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

“As an immigrant, I thought it was impossible that I would get this,” Karamanougian says. “So when I received the call, I asked them to repeat what they had said. I thought I had not heard properly.”

Established in 2017, the CLC/UWCC Partnership Scholarship recognizes the efforts and commitment of young workers across Canada who are positively impacting social and workplace issues in their community.

Karamanougian recently graduated from Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, and will pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her goal is to become a high school mathematics teacher and to help future students advocate for human rights.

“We recognize that post-secondary education provides important opportunities for young people but is out of reach for many due to ever-increasing tuition fees,” says Sharon Lupton, the CLC’s National Director, Labour Programs and Services.

“The Canadian Labour Congress and United Way Centraide Canada are long-time partners in taking action to create prosperous, inclusive, diverse and respectful communities, safer workplaces, and a fairer Canada for working people. The goal of the scholarship is to reward young workers who have made an impact.”

Lupton said that throughout the scholarship application process, Karamanougian demonstrated an uncanny ability to make the link between the everyday actions of unions, governments and individuals in order to challenge the rise of white nationalism and the alt-right in Canada.

In her personal essay, Karamanougian connected her own experiences as an immigrant from Syria as well as the work of her union to the broader mission of the labour movement. She is currently a pharmacy assistant at Food Basics Pharmacy and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175.

“Her deep commitment to social justice and legislative advocacy to combat discrimination and oppression in our country make her a powerful voice for the youth of today,” Lupton says.

Karamanougian plans to study four years of math, then pursue a teaching degree. And since she is a natural at languages — Armenian is her first language, Arabic her second — she hopes to minor in French while also studying Spanish.

“I like teaching,” she says. “I also love helping people. That’s in my veins. Seeing people happy is the most important thing. This scholarship was really good timing so I will keep this hope and make my family proud.”

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