Care packages prepared for Street Haven are put together by the Lead the Convo team at Mary Ward Secondary School. Photo courtesy Lead the Convo

Students take the lead on social justice

  • April 28, 2022

A group of Scarborough 11th graders have committed to being agents for change when it comes to social justice.

Pia Manipol, along with co-founders Rand Finjan and Shanelle Salanguit, launched an organization called Lead the Convo (LTC) at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School following a passionate social justice debate they had in French class during the global reckoning on racism in 2020. Manipal reached out to Finjan and Salanguit later that day about starting a movement and they were immediately on board.

“I saw injustice happening around me all my life,” said Finjan, who grew up in the Middle East. “When Pia reached out, I was like this is amazing because I finally have a platform with people who care about this stuff like me who can create some type of difference, especially because we’re still so young. We have social media and our community around us for support.”

“It was hard to start an organization with students who don’t have connections,” said Manipol. “One thing we learned was that we can make a change even if we’re young. There’s people with so many talents and gifts and if we really amplify their voices, it really makes a difference.”

The three took advantage of the extra time they had during lockdowns to pioneer the youth-led organization with a goal to shine a light on social issues that were not being covered in mainstream news media and collaborated with other youth-led organizations that sought to have a positive effect on those around them. Ignited to put their hands to the plough to make a tangible impact on their communities, the team also aimed to spread the message that age does not determine credibility when it comes to fighting for social change.

Their first big initiative was called Rings for Rights, a Black Lives Matter fundraiser where they collaborated with another youth-led small business, Olive and Oak Jewelry. They were able to raise $400 which was donated to Freedom Schools Toronto, an organization working to improve education equity for Black students. They also began an initiative called Leaders Writing Letters last March where 58 volunteers wrote and sent over 300 e-letters to various elderly homes. Volunteers created heartfelt messages to cheer up older adults going through the challenges of isolation.

“With LTC what I noticed is there are so many like-minded leaders and individuals out there who are just ready to create change,” said Manipol. “Collaborating with them has really inspired us to do better with our organization.”

Another issue the team was inspired to address was period poverty. Finjan took the lead on a recent initiative to donate products to Street Haven at the Crossing Roads Women’s Shelter. They partnered with an organization called Rising Youth and got a grant of $750 to purchase high demand items to be donated to those in need. The team made 50 care packages that included menstrual products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair ties, deodorants, soap and more. 

“A lot of shelters were not accepting items because of COVID-19 restrictions, but I went online, I looked at reviews, I contacted the shelter and just saw that they were really great, positive people,” said Finjan. “I’m so happy with my choice because I reached out to them, they answered and respected me. They respect the fact that we’re young and didn’t hold that that against us. I just found it a very positive environment.”

At 16 and 17 years old, when it comes to choosing organizations to work with, they look for causes they are aligned with and where they can find mutual respect despite their ages. They are grateful for the support they have received from other youth and those in the community following them on social media, and through their website from people who have contributed to their initiatives in tangible ways. That respect is necessary to continue to grow.

Though there are obstacles along the way, the team says they are fit for the challenge. 

“Honestly I think you really need a lot of courage to stand up for something you believe in, especially when you’re our age,” said Manipol. “People will find any way to discredit what you’re trying to say, even if it’s something that’s trying to create change and better the community. It’s not just adults who try to discredit but also people our age who say you should be doing this or that. At the end of the day our goal is to create a better community and we will do it as we see fit. We know that we are credible individuals who are getting stuff done and we try to keep that as our motivation.”

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