LONDON, Ont. - Every other year, student trustees from across Ontario meet in a designated city for a weekend of faith, fellowship and leadership development.

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - In March of 2011, Toronto student Isabel Ng-Lai took part in a service trip to India, where she volunteered at two schools run by the Loreto Sisters. It was an eye-opening trip that also helped her to be named Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School’s Catholic student of the year.

Ng-Lai was one of the 100 Ontario students who was to be recognized Oct. 20 at the 29th Annual Patrick Fogarty Awards Dinner. The dinner celebrates students at each Ontario Catholic high school who provide “service to community, service to their Church, service to their parish and service to their parents,” said Michael Monk, executive secretary of the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario, which sponsors the awards.

“We feel we need to recognize the good things that are going on in Catholic high schools,” said Monk.

Ng-Lai went to India for a month with Adventure Learning Experiences. She volunteered at Loreto Sealdah and Loreto Panighatta, where she learned about the local culture and students’ daily lives.

“I had the opportunity to teach English and art to class 3 and 4 students. They were an absolute joy to teach, very respectful and hardworking, which I think is a testament to what the Loreto Sisters are doing in their schools,” she said.

Of the 49 students under her tutelage, Ng-Lai recalls accompanying one student on her hour-long walk home from school.

“She told me that when she grew up, she wanted to be like me and volunteer abroad to help children in Africa. It was a pivotal moment in my life because I came to the realization that my actions could inspire others,” said Ng-Lai.

“Many of these students are street children or come from families who suffer from extreme poverty. I tried to pass on the message to my students that they can break the cycle of poverty through education. They should always strive to achieve their full potential.”

When Ng-Lai returned home, she and a friend founded the non-profit organization 1Focus that chooses a specific cause each year, alternating between international and local.

“Last year 1Focus raised $8,000 for Loreto Panighata,” she said. “The funds will help expand the educational system and provide the opportunity for underprivileged children to attend school on a full-time basis.”

This year, 1Focus is raising funds for two youth homeless shelters, Eva’s Initiatives and Pathway.

“One of the main things I learned from my trip is that children are the same everywhere, they need affection, love to play with their peers and are very curious. So if children are the same everywhere, then they should be given equal rights,” she said.

Ng-Lai is now a first year student at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Chris Harrison is also among this year’s Fogarty Award winners. The Grade 12 student at Burlington, Ont.’s Corpus Christi Secondary School was recognized for his efforts at home and abroad. He has been an altar server since Grade 6 at St. Raphael’s parish, where he’s also served as a eucharistic minister. This year, he took part in his school’s Hope trip to the Dominican Republic.

“I’ve been to a lot of places,” said Harrison, “but that was definitely one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.”

Harrison recalls that the locals were strong in their faith.

“It’s nice to see the smiles everywhere, even though they had so much less than us,” he said. “It really brought you down to earth.”

At the awards dinner, the CEFO’s medal of honour was to be presented to Archbishop Paul- André Durocher. And the Michael Carty Awards, financial grants of up to $2,000 each, were to be presented to eight elementary and secondary schools for proposing “innovative and engaging programs or projects” in their Catholic school environment.

Published in Youth Speak News