A realization that things could always be worse led two Semiahmoo Secondary students to join forces to help out marginalized people within their community.
Gurleena Sukhija and Nicole Sanctis, who are about to go into Grade-12, co-founded a youth-led organization called The Anti-Prejudice Project at the start of the year.
“We’ve really been focusing on helping people facing discrimination in their communities or helping people who need support and are not able to get that support,” Sukhija said.
For Sukhija, it was seeing news from other countries where people of colour were being discriminated against that made her want to do something. Seeing people who looked like her be treated much worse than she was experienced was a wake-up call for her.
One of the very first initiatives the group conducted was raising money for the Mishkeegogamang First Nation after learning in school about how most Indigenous communities on reserve land do not have access to clean water.
The Anti-Prejudice Project raised a total of $500 which went directly to the Mishkeegogamang First Nation people.
When thinking of their next project to help vulnerable communities, Sukhija and Sanctis could not ignore the increasing concern of people in the province living on the streets.
“It had become clear to us that homelessness is still a massive crisis in the lower mainland and that it’s necessary for individuals with privilege to put aside judgements and stereotypes in order to combat this issue,” Sanctis said.
Together as a group, everyone decided to use a grant they received to make supply packages filled with hygiene products, nutritious foods and socks to hand-deliver to people staying at various shelters in Surrey.
“Even though it’s not going to sustain them a long time, they need to know that they’re supported in their community,” Sukhija said.
The group visited Parkway Shelter, Gateway Shelter and Cloverdale Community Kitchen to meet with the staff and residents while delivering the items.
“We would see them open the packages and immediately start using the stuff which was really heart-warming to see,” Sukhija said.
Visiting the shelters also presented an opportunity to speak with everyone and learn about the peoples’ situations and how to best help them.
“After speaking with Julia — a manager at Parkway Shelter — she made it clear that more accessible permanent housing is urgently needed. Although the shelters are meant to be temporary solutions, some individuals have been living there for numerous years,” Sanctis recalled.
Feeling ostracized is a common reality for the people that the students spoke with. Many of them expressed “how hard it is to be re-integrated into a society where they can be accepted.”
Going forward, The Anti-Prejudice Project hopes to expand it’s reach in the near future. One day, they hope to be able to help people globally.
“Julia also mentioned that getting support from youth gave her hope for future generations tackling the issue of housing and the lack of drop-in shelters in our communities,” Sanctis said.