Mississauga teen wins American essay contest

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • April 24, 2007
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Nishaat Hussainbhoy understands the value of a good Catholic education after having grown up in the United Arab Emirates, a predominately Muslim country with limited freedom of expression.  
She successfully conveyed how she’s grown in her faith despite these obstacles  becoming the only Canadian to win this year’s Fireside Essay Scholarship worth $1,000 (U.S.).

“I was really shocked because it was between 239 contestants,” said Hussainbhoy, a Grade 12 student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary School in Mississauga.

Fireside Catholic Publishing, a Kansas-based publishing company that sells Bibles to Catholic schools, has sponsored the contest for 17 years as a thank you to the Catholic schools they supply and to recognize students with steadfast faith who have embraced Catholic education.

“It just gives them a minute to think about where they are going and why and what role does their faith play in their lives,” said sales representative Kathleen Henderson, who organizes the scholarship.

The 17-year-old was one of six winners to be selected from 40 finalists. Three educators judged the anonymous entries based on content, style and personal insight and meeting this year’s theme, “How faith influences your life as a student.”

“I hoped to convey how important it is to keep your faith intact throughout all the struggles you face in life because in the end it’s religious faith that is of utmost importance,” said Hussainbhoy.

Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Hussainbhoy is familiar with struggle.

“If you walk around in the United Arab Emirates saying you were Catholic you might have to be afraid of persecution for your religion perhaps, but in Canada you can express your faith more freely,” she said.

Hussainbhoy’s parents, originally from India, moved to the United Arab Emirates for job opportunities. Hussainbhoy and her younger sister attended Sunday school at their parish until the family moved to Canada when she was 13 and enrolled in the Ontario Catholic school system. 

While Hussainbhoy was raised Catholic, her father is a Muslim.

“My parents decided to raise both my sister and me as Catholics because my mom (a Catholic) was more influential in our lives because she was home most of the time.”

While students are usually nominated by a teacher Hussainbhoy approached Mount Carmel’s guidance counsellor and chaplaincy department herself. The decision was between two students and the school opted to send in her application.  

“We are so proud that she was so persistent,” said Anne Brisbois Abbott, Mount Carmel’s chaplaincy leader.

Hussainbhoy’s essay is to be distributed among educators to be used during Catholic Education Week.

Hussainbhoy plans to put her earnings toward her university studies and  eventually hopes to become a pediatrician or a geneticist.

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