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Leadership Capacity Grantees 2015

Imagine having a vision for your community and being able to jumpstart your idea into action! Through the Leadership Capacity Grants, Girls Action is supporting young women across the country transform their ideas into reality.

In the past few weeks, we provided a total of thirteen (13) grants of $1000 to young women between the ages of 16-25 from across Canada to help them develop innovative actions and leadership initiatives in their communities. These grants support young women who are looking to further develop their leadership skills while making an impact in their community.

Young women submitted projects like teach-ins, storytelling workshops, dance shows, and discussion groups. Their projects tackle big issues like food justice, colonization, inequality and body positivity.

Below you can find out more about the grantees and their creative projects!

Seeking more support

70 young women applied for Leadership Capacity Grants this year - many more than we could fund in collaboration with our current partners including Desjardins Foundation and Shirley Greenberg.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to support three more applicants from our waiting list. As of last week, we even had the funds to add a fourth! We are still gathering funds for these additional projects, so please join us with a gift and we will keep you in the loop about their work!

Cynthia Ankemah

Cynthia Ankemah studies sociology. She has been living in Montreal for two years now. She left the Ivory Coast with her family to live in Quebec. She is involved with Breast Cancer Action Québec in their project FemmeToxic, which aims to reinforce public participation of young women with regards to justice in the health sector. She is very much involved in social causes and never hesitates to volunteer whenever she can. In the past two years, Cynthia has participated in many projects by and for young women. Her primary goal is to make others smile and to be able to guide young female teenagers in leadership and self-esteem.

With the Leadership Capacity Grant, Cynthia will provide workshops and encourage young girls aged between 12 and 17 to participate in leadership projects and to put critical thinking at the center of their actions in order to reduce the risks associated with harmful choices that they could make. 

Gurvir Singh

Gurvir Singh is a 23-year-old artist with Downs syndrome. She has been using art as a means for self-expression since she was a child. She has always enjoyed painting, singing and dancing, and now she uses art as a means to raise awareness about various social issues. She is an active volunteer with Broadening Horizons, a youth empowerment agency that uses creative expression and social media to raise awareness on social justice issues.

Gurvir is passionate about change and using her creative talents towards making the world a better place.  She created the PowerofONE project to help stop bullying using her passion for art and fashion. The PowerofONE project aims to help others understand the power of words through an interactive discussion and a T-Shirt design making workshop. With her Leadership Capacity Grant she will be able to share her PowerofONF project with youth in the Peel region and put together the PowerofONE fashion and art show on June 26th 2015. To learn more about Gurvir please visit: http://about.me/msgurvirsingh

Jeannette Mambo

Jeannette Mambo is an 18 year old who has a huge desire to help as many people as she can. She took a year off so that she could take the time to find out who she is and what she wants to do before spending $40,000 getting a degree in something she was not sure she liked. In the midst of it, she discovered her huge love for organizing events and everything arts related: fashion, dance, and music. She likes to help others as much as she can and do things for her community. Jeanne believes that her generation and younger generations are the next people to change the world so she tries to be an example for them to emulate. She believes that a goal can never be too big to achieve.

With the help of her Leadership Capacity Grant, Jeanne is organizing the Black Excellence Awards that will shatter negative stereotypes surrounding people of colour by demonstrating that they can achieve, accomplish and attain excellence in wide and varied fields of endeavour. The Black Excellence Award Gala will showcase outstanding achievement made by people of color in New-Brunswick and honour employers and individuals who are leaders in diversity, development, impact, and innovation.

Simone Blais

Simone Blais is a young woman based in Toronto. She attends the University of Victoria. Her most valued work consists of projects that focus on decolonization, female empowerment and racial equality. Simone has expressed her passion for these issues through spoken and written word poetry, dance, and local initiatives. Her sources of strength are her family, her community and her Black/Indigenous identity. Through artistic and practical activism, Simone will empower those who are systematically lacking a voice.

With the Leadership Capacity Grant, Simone created a workshop for young women to learn how to keep their dignity, gain confidence, and know their rights when dealing with people in positions of authority. This two-day weekend workshop, entitled, 'Know Your Rights, Stand Your Ground,' is a way for young women to collaborate on strategies that can be used in situations where many of us tend to second guess ourselves and give in to the authority at hand. According to Simone, knowing exactly what rights we have is an integral part of gaining confidence when dealing with the authorities. She believes that equipped with knowledge and united by love, we are forever strong. 

Gloria Bury

Gloria Bury is a young and dynamic 19 year old who was born to Haitian parents and raised in Montreal. From a young age, she started to develop social skills assuring her positions in the organization of extra-curricular activities such as leadership groups in primary school and Student Council in secondary school. She began her college courses in early childhood education at Vanier College. A big dreamer and passionate about sociology and the status of women, she aspires to contribute to the progress of social and economic values of young girls in her community. The passion and enthusiasm engrained in her by these experiences lead her to take on new goals and challenges. '' The doors of your dreams are not always visible but the only way to see them is to create them.''

With the help of the Leadership Capacity Grant, Gloria will host a conference that will provide young women the practical tools that will help them move forward with their projects and inspire them to take a stand as leaders of their communities. Interactive workshops on project development strategies will also be offered as well as networking opportunities with business professionals and other women of influence of Montreal.

Mona Mohammed

Mona was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. She immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta at the age of four with her family. Mona has been active in the Edmonton Somali community for over 10 years. Her areas of interest have been youth engagement and women empowerment. 

Mona is passionate about societal issues such as patriarchy, race, gender based violence, & body image. Her goal is to explore how these issues affect young Somali women in Edmonton. In 2011, she co-founded the Idylcollective with a group of her friends due to the lack of programs that cater to issues faced by young women, especially in the Somali community. The Idylcollective aims to create a safe space for young women to share their personal experiences with each other by discussing subjects such as diaspora, gender, race, religion and relationships.

With the Leadership Capacity Grant, Mona and the collective will lead weekly sessions for young women to connect, share and build leadership skills. The collective will also conduct workshops to engage Somali men on topics including consent, misogyny, masculinity, and feminism. Lastly, in order to reach a broader audience the Idylcollective will launch a podcast in June.

Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown is an African-Canadian student at the University of Victoria studying economics and political science. She has been very active in the community since high school with clubs such as Youth Challenge International and is currently the Events Coordinator for the Uvic African and Caribbean Students Association.

With her grant, Michelle plans to hold ongoing consultations with students in Greater Victoria high schools about mental health and issues surrounding reproductive justice affecting them, with the final aim of having a panel discussion and producing a pamphlet to be distributed in schools. 

Nasma Ahmed

Nasma Ahmed is a freelance web developer and community organizer based in Toronto. She is currently studying Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She is interested in the intersection of policy and technology, most of her work is with non-profits. She is currently running a program called Unravel, an intensive film program for young women of colour based in Scarborough. 

Nasma’s project is a Short Documentary titled "Hello My Name Is". This documentary will explore an individual’s name and the relationship the person has with their name especially names people find "difficult". It will be a series of interviews and animations telling the stories about the names that shape who we are. 

Suborna Nath

Born and raised in the busy city of Montreal, 20 year old Suborna Nath is currently studying business at Dawson College and going to Concordia University in the upcoming semester. In 2014, Suborna co-founded Rangeela Dance Troupe to pursue her passion for dance. With the Leadership Capacity Grant and the support of her dance team, Suborna has produced a musical dance drama to address issues of gender inequality.

The production aims to raise awareness of various forms of oppression faced by women. The story portrays several examples of how women are discriminated against. For instance, the story addresses parents discriminating between their sons and daughters, companies favouring male candidates over females, women being objectified and harassed, as well as situations of domestic abuse. These issues reflect Suborna's concerns about socially constructed norms that are especially prevalent in the South Asian community. Through the performance, Suborna aims to raise awareness about deeply unjust norms and behaviours, as well as empower women to raise their voice and stand up for themselves. 

LaMeia Reddick

LaMeia is a passionate community leader that hails from North Preston, Nova Scotia. Preston is one of the oldest and largest indigenous African Nova Scotian communities in Canada.  LaMeia is committed to community development in her community and uses the arts as a way to engage and inspire youth to take on tough social issues in the province.

At the age of 24, LaMeia has turned her passion for community engagement and project management into a consultant business, which allows her to lead innovative and creative community projects. With the support of the Leadership Capacity Grant, LaMeia will work with other young women in the community of North Preston to establish an Art Hive that will bring together a group of young women to provide access to art supplies and open creative space for art creation and self-exploration. The art coming from this project will serve to educate and promote the existence and perspectives of young women living in a community that has been marginalized. Keep your eyes open for emerging North Preston artist! 

Najla Kanaan

Najla identifies as a feminist, humanist, Mipster, social activist and womyn of colour (in no particular order). Najla is a pioneering member of a Muslim youth-led violence prevention movement. She is a youth mentor and has worked on a local and national scale on youth-led initiatives. She is a recent graduate and is eager to pursue a career in community development.

With the support of the leadership capacity grant and a grassroots VAW movement called Reclaim Honour, Najla will cultivate and host a day long healing session for self-identified Muslim women that are survivors of violence. In this workshop, sisters will use multi-media strategies to share their stories of violence, healing and resilience. Najla will do this in the hopes that it will help survivors along their journey of healing. After the day-long multi-media workshop, she will host conversations with members of Londons' Muslim communities that will look critically and constructively at the issue of violence against women, how they can better support survivors and how to foster safety within families and communities. 

Avinanda Chattappaday

Avinanda Chattapadday is a hardworking, passionate and experienced dancer and choreographer. Avinanda has organized several performances, both dance and theatre, for the South Asian Alliance of Quebec, Sanatan Dharma Temple, and other South Asian communities in Montreal. While she has grown to love her heritage and embrace her multicultural identity, Avinanda has been deeply bothered by the observation that many South Asian women neglect their own well-being in order to serve their family. Through the Leadership Capacity Grant, Avinanda wants to encourage these women to be more active and self-aware. This will be achieved through a six week long dance fitness course that also incorporates important information on physical and mental health. Every week, a different type of South Asian dance form will be introduced, along with a short workshop on leading healthy lifestyles. The specific topics presented in the workshops will be determined by the participants when they register for the program. This program will target working South Asian women with families but it is open to all women regardless of race, age, and occupation. Avinanda hopes that her initiative will remind the women who have always been her strength and inspiration to also value and appreciate themselves.

Cynthia Smith

Cynthia is a young algonquin-quebecker of 25 years from Maniwaki. Passionate of cultures, travelling, equity and social justice, she loves making new connections, inspiring and being inspired! A graduate of civil law à the University of Ottawa, she is passionate about her cultural heritage and would like to build bridges between diverse cultures.

This summer, in South Dakota, Cynthia will participate in a workshop given by the oral storytelling group of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, accompanied by nine other indigenous youth from all over the world. They will have the immense pleasure of meeting the first indigenous leaders that walked their first step in the United Nations.

With her Grant, Cynthia wants to return to Canada and share what was transmitted during her journey. A circle of exchange on oral storytelling will ensue in order to facilitate intergenerational communication. She wants youth who dream, who believe in themselves, who feel loved and who have strong roots. Oral storytelling provides for all of this.

Karissa John

Karissa John is Mohawk of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. She is going into her fourth year at York University majoring in Social Sciences and specializing in the Equity and Culture stream, she was also elected President of the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York (ASAY). Karissa hopes to couple western academia with the guiding principles of the Onkwehon:we to strengthen her understandings and advocacy for Native Rights.

Karissa is piloting her dream of implementing her Indigenous Leading Youth (ILY) program. She believes that by educating youth on the historical, systematic and ongoing forms of colonization and the various barriers that stem from these processes, they will come to understand more clearly their life and experiences. Through learning the history of their resilient nations, pride will replace shame, clarity will erode confusion, and acceptance and forgiveness will initiate healing. ILY will encourage youth to re-root themselves in their language, their cultures and communities to solidify a strong ground in which to carry them throughout their lives. Wholeheartedly, Karissa believes that knowledge is power, and with it, you set yourself free. 

Charmaine Okatsiak

Charmaine Okatsiak is an Inuk from Kangiq&iniq (Rankin Inlet) Nunavut, and she believes that everyone is capable in achieving what they believe in. She strongly aims at self-identity and preserving the Canadian Inuit culture. She has been throat singing, drum dancing, and singing traditional songs since she was a teen and got to travel in and out of Canada to perform.  Charmaine believes that when you know and understand where you come from you will find acceptance and peace within you as an individual. Therefore she had formed the “Inuugapta Youth Group” for youth to meet and practice Inuit culture and language, INUUGAPTA “Because we’re Inuit”.

Charmaine will focus on girls through her “Young Women’s Empowerment Project” to unite as young Inuit women working towards community mindfulness. She will try to embed the topics of facilitation, anti-oppression, violence prevention, and self-esteem/confidence through activities like sewing, beading, art, self-expression and bringing in elders as guest speakers. 

Arwa Abouel Hassan

Arwa is a grade 12 student from Scarborough, Ontario. She is a passionate crafter who loves expressing herself through arts and crafts. Aside from school work, Arwa has her own polymer clay charm business called Once upon a charm. Arwa loves working with children and hopes to become a kindergarten teacher in the upcoming years.

Arwa wants to help young girls like her express themselves. With her grant, Arwa will offer young girls with the opportunity to express themselves using polymer clay charm jewelry. The girls will get a chance to understand more about how jewelry can help them express themselves while learning how to make their very own polymer clay charm bracelet! 


More biographies and project descriptions are on the way! 

These grants were made possible thanks to generous contributions of our donors. Gloria and Suborna's grants are sponsored by Desjardins Foundation. Thank you!