2016 Youth Honouree
“I am passionate about helping others.”
A picture is worth a thousand words; it can also change a young life. At the age of ten, when Shannon Wong saw a photo in the New York Times taken by South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, her outlook on life was irreversibly changed. In the photo, an emaciated African child is being stalked by a vulture in Southern Sudan as she makes her way across open grassland towards a distant food station. Shannon’s story is one of compassion paired with courage.
“That image turned my world upside down. Before then I was unaware that this was going on in other parts of the world. I lived in a comfortable home with loving parents. I had everything I needed so I had no idea that hunger and starvation existed in the world. It challenged me to do my part to change such dire circumstances, but at the time I was only in grade five and unsure of what I could do to alleviate famine and poverty.”
Not long after this experience, Shannon gave her first charitable donation when she won a math competition. She had heard about “Free the Children” and wanted to contribute somehow. At the time they were doing an “Adopt A Village” campaign, and her school was participating in a fundraiser to purchase cows, goats, and pigs to provide an alternate source of income for Kenyans in poverty. Shannon used her cash prize to purchase a cow. This Richmond Hill resident did not stop there.
Her volunteer efforts overseas to help build schools and health centres with Me to We have provided over 350 students with an education in countries like China, India, Kenya, and Ecuador. Over 160 families now have access to clean, safe drinking water, and she has helped over 20 families find an alternative source of income to avoid child labour, enabling children to attend school. By speaking to students and educators about her experiences, Shannon created ‘Strength in Numbers’ in order to “help youth help others” by promoting volunteerism. During her childhood and teenage years, Shannon also assisted in raising over $100K for Free the Children. Her involvement was always community based, but when she went to India, she was inspired to steer her study at Queen’s University to become a General Surgeon.
“From my experience, I’ve encountered child labour and bad working conditions, so how a company gives back plays a role in how I decide to purchase from them. Seeing it firsthand has made a big impact on me because I connected with the local people. If a company supports fair trade products, then I’m more likely to buy their merchandise. In general, I think social enterprise is wise, and companies can do positive things with their profits and partner with community organizations. Corporations who model their businesses like that could sway purchasing decisions, especially in young people who are more aware.”
Shannon is focused on medical-related volunteering. During her stay in Ghana, she visited schools to teach kids about personal hygiene and first aid. Sustainable health care abroad is a priority for her because she is passionate about making a difference in the lives of others.
“I participated in a medical internship where I was an extra set of hands in an understaffed surgical ward of a municipal hospital in Ghana. I went on community outreaches and educated students and community members on hygiene, sun protection, and healthy living. This experience was significant, not only for the contributions I made, but for my own personal development. I believe the most important ingredient for improvement is a positive message of results that a volunteer on the ground can deliver to an audience back home to motivate them to do likewise. I wanted to showcase that side of humanity which Canadians can relate to.”
Having gained a broader perspective on global issues, Shannon cultivated relationships with the local people and brought their stories back home. She created a photo blog and Facebook page called ‘Humans of Ghana’ where she shared not only the healthcare challenges they faced, but also another side of Ghana that she had experienced . . . a place of beauty, community, resilience, and hope.