Larissa Crawford, a double major in International Development Studies and Communication Studies, has won a 2015 Terry Fox Humanitarian Award. The award, named after a Canadian hero, cross-country marathoner and former cancer patient, recognizes students who possess and express “ideals of courage, humanitarianism, service and compassion,” while pursuing “excellence in academic, amateur sport, fitness, health, and voluntary community service.” The award grants a maximum of $28,000 over a period of four years.
Crawford, who will be entering her third year in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies this September, has spent the last school year in Istanbul on academic exchange and volunteering with Caritas International with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
“I chose to go to Istanbul for two reasons, one of which was to challenge myself by living in a country with circumstances I’ve studied in International Development and secondly to experience on-the-ground volunteering with refugees fleeing real-time crises in their home countries,” she says.
During that time, she distributed clothes and aid, completed home assessment visits, did English to French translation work for African refugees and assisted and planned monthly information sessions and bi-weekly Women’s Group meetings. She also interviewed refugees to better understand how to help students with refugee status who want to study in Canada.
“I gained a personal insight into the lives of refugees I became close with, which furthered my understanding and passion for the field of humanitarian aid,” Crawford says.
Crawford’s voluntary service extends far beyond Turkey. While attending York University, Crawford has helped organize food and clothing drives and “developed resources for students to have more access to volunteer opportunities while studying abroad,” she says.
She has taken volunteer-related trips to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Egypt. When she was 16, she worked to fund a volunteer trip to teach English in Ghana. While teaching at the Let Us Shine Academy in Kpandai District, she initiated a fundraiser and collected books and school supplies to help create the school’s library. Extra books from the fundraiser were sent to contribute to the opening of Kainai Public Library, the first library on a First Nations reserve in Alberta. Crawford, who has Métis lineage, calls the province home.
“Everyone is born equally, but not everyone is born with equal access to opportunities and resources. With my own experience of living in poverty as a child, I can attest to the impact a volunteer’s efforts can make on someone’s life,” says Crawford. “In doing humanitarian work and with exposure to realities beyond one’s bubble of comfort, the bliss of ignorance is succeeded by an awareness that, in some cases, will invigorate an individual’s desire to take their abilities and resources and make difference. I first realized this in my first fundraising pursuit when I was 13, and since then I’ve continued to seek opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.”