LEAH STUART-SHEPPARD IS not your average student. By the time this local high school graduate heads back to university next month, she will have spent her summer brainstorming a better world with G20 delegates.
In fact, the 21-year-old, who is on a full scholarship at the University of Ottawa, has made it her mission in life to educate the world and make it a better place.
“Education helps create global citizens. It empowers people to change,” says Stuart-Sheppard, who dedicates much of her life to volunteering and educating herself.
She says she first learned the importance of both while attending Leaside High.
In Grade 10, she became involved with Adolescents for Community Teamwork (ACT), a school club that fosters local volunteerism.
As part of the club, Stuart-Sheppard was selected to do a leadership training program, which she says changed her life: “I began to see the importance of being aware of your community, being aware of how you are involved.”
Throughout high school, she volunteered with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Free the Children, offered tutoring services at school, babysat children at her church and worked with a local food drive.
Stuart-Sheppard says volunteering, specifically with ACT, also helped her gain an appreciation for international issues, so much so, that, when she graduated high school, she chose to study international development at the University of Ottawa.
After moving to Ottawa, Stuart- Sheppard started volunteering with a friend’s cousin, who heads the Canada-Mathare Education Trust, a non-profit organization that raises scholarship money for youth living in Kenyan slums.
It was also that cousin who suggested Stuart- Sheppard apply for something called the G(irls)20 Summit.
The brainchild of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, the summit brought together one girl from each of the G20 countries for a meeting of the minds. Stuart-Sheppard beat out hundreds of Canadian girls to become our country’s delegate.
Earlier this summer, she met with other delegates from places such as South Africa and Saudi Arabia to talk about issues including global education, health and the economy.
“What was really interesting was hearing the cultural side of things, the mix of different opinions and ideas,” says Stuart-Sheppard.
The girls followed a United Nations guideline and at the end of the summit had to make recommendations on how different global problems could be solved. According to Stuart-Sheppard, the summit reaffirmed the power of having a voice.
“It showed me the importance of focusing on breaking the silence,” she says, “of ensuring the opportunity for everyone to speak up and do what they think is necessary to realize their dreams.”
As for Stuart-Sheppard’s own dream? “Working in the field of education,” she says. “It’s a way to give people the tools they need to improve themselves … the starting ground for all change.”