Announcing 2013 YMCA Peace Medals Recipients

On Thursday, November 21 2013, our inspiring group of YMCA Peace Medal nominees were honoured at this year’s YMCA Peace Medal awards.  And the 2013 Peace Medal recipients are…

Community Youth – Sheliza Kassam

At age 16, Sheliza has organized international fundraisers, started her own organization, and travelled across the country inspiring others with her story.

Instead of asking for presents or a party, Sheliza celebrates her birthday by giving back to the community. Last January, Sheliza started her organization, Children’s Birthday Miracles, which provides monthly birthday parties to children living at Inn from the Cold, as well as orphans living at the Mother Theresa home in Tanzania.

Sheliza’s strives to inspire others through the work she is doing.


Community Individual – Dakota Eagle Woman

Dakota Eagle Woman works with the Youth Correctional Services and the Calgary Remand Centre. She is also an involved Elder with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary and hosts healing circles at Berkana House.  She is an essential resource amongst all of these organizations as she offers counsel and traditional advice to Aboriginal Youth and Adults in the justice system.

Her kindness, knowledge and healing abilities are an invaluable asset that she uses to help people in the Aboriginal community meet their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs.

Dakota’s healing spirit and loving attitude is reflected throughout her work with the justice system.


Community Group – The Big Give Project

Adam Woodward and Dave Wilder from The Big Give

What started off as an initiative to raise money for a High School basketball team, has turned into an incredible fundraising initiative, providing opportunities for under-privileged athletes across several communities in Calgary.

The goal of The Big Give Project is to allow every student-athlete in the City of Calgary to have an equal opportunity to pursue excellence in the classroom and the sport of their choosing.

Since 2011, The Big Give Project has donated to community programs, schools and youth in need. Funds were raised to purchase uniforms, sporting equipment and training gear. The founders, Adam Woodward and Dave Wilder, have personally coached high school basketball teams and have given youth the opportunity to succeed in their dreams.


International Youth – Meiting Lai

Meiting has demonstrated exceptional peer leadership skills. Her passion for human rights and her desire to make a difference has inspired her to lead the Amnesty International Club at her school.

Meiting believes that we can all make a difference in the world, no matter where you live or how old you may be.  Last year, Meiting led her club through the successful Write for Rights campaign, an initiative of Amnesty international.

In her role as a leader, Meiting has supported and empowered her peers to explore different peace building initiatives and to act on a cause that is important to them. She is an inspiration to those around her!

Meiting’s dedication and commitment to global equality has seen the Amnesty International Club expand 3-fold under her leadership and explore new ways of engaging with the community.  Meiting exemplies the values of a global citizen acting locally!


International Individual – Tricia Elgersma

Tricia’s approach to peace building is the result of a life-long desire to give each person an opportunity to be heard equally, especially in times of conflict.  Her passion for listening to the stories of others, led her to volunteer in Israel and Palestine where she learned how complicated concepts of peace and conflict are within a community.

In 2012, Tricia volunteered in Jordan at a school for low vision or blind students.  This school allows marginalized children to feel important and valued in a community where they are often neglected.  Tricia believes that everyone has the capacity to express themselves, regardless of their physical abilities.  She led her students through visual means of communication and self-expression, which empowered them to gain confidence in themselves.

While Tricia continues to be passionate about inclusive communities in areas of conflict, Tricia says, “There is a vibrant, strong and wonderful community in Calgary.  I really believe that peace starts at a local level when we live in better relationship with each other.  It’s important as a culture that we take the time to know each other.  Our communities are healthier when we know our neighbors.”


International Group – Mennonite Central Committee Alberta

Abe Janzen from MCC


Mennonite Central Committee Alberta is an organization that is dedicated to relief, development and peace-making.  Founded in 1963, MCC’s peace work includes addressing injustice, promoting alternatives to violence, and working towards inclusion. Through long-lasting partnerships, MCC helps support programs in over 60 countries internationally and within Canada.

MCC’s incredible work is shown through programs such as Planting Peace, a cross-cultural training session that brings together delegates from 17 countries to help break down barriers and build communities. MCC has also begun using music as a means of peace-building with international partners in Guatemala and El Salvador.


YMCA Staff Category – Owini Dharmawardana

Owini is a YMCA Kids’ Club Program Coordinator at West Dalhousie School where she has significantly impacted her program and program participants.

Owini passionately believes in the value of building capacity in young leaders and attributes this to her own experience as a developing leader in the YMCA.

Participants in Owini’s program learn the importance of engaging with their community and working together to make their community a healthy place to be.  Owini challenges her students to practice acts of kindness on a daily basis and together they experience the joy of giving back to others in need.

Owini’s innate ability to help children feel valued, appreciated, and empowered to make a difference, has equipped many young people with the self-confidence and skills they need to be a strong leader.

Thank you Owini, for exemplifying the YMCA core values of Honest, respect, Caring, and responsibility.


Humanitarian – Karen Huggins

YMCA Calgary is proud to present the Humanitarian YMCA Peace Medal to Karen Huggins.

Karen Huggins is a member of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary, the Program Director for Project Ploughshares Calgary and is also a board member for the Canadian-Congolese Foundation for Children. She is passionate about peace and believes we should all strive to build a better world for all people.

Over the past two years Karen has worked tirelessly to organize the Calgary Peace Run and Walk. As a serious walker herself, she envisioned involving Calgarians in a healthy lifestyle at the same time as promoting peace at the personal, local and international levels.

A proud mother of eight, Karen is an avid supporter of peace education and believes that a culture of peace is possible.

For all her work with local peace organizations, Karen is truly a deserving recipient of this year’s Humanitarian Peace Medal. Congratulations!