Claudia Vergara, award recipient

Claudia Vergara

Recipient of the President's Award
"To me, leadership includes the nurturing of meaningful relationships that are built on trust and mutual aid. Positive change is born in and of the community, and a leader facilitates and holds space for this change to happen."
Studying: Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Refugee and Migration Studies School: York University (second year) Career aspirations: Doula
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What was the first thing you did when you found out you’re receiving a scholarship award and how did you feel?
I called my mom to share the good news. My mom has always been my biggest supporter and I am so thankful for her continued patience, love, and care. I am grateful to her for holding space for me to grow up to be the person I am today and she continues to be the first person I share good news with. I felt so excited and proud to have my efforts recognized and celebrated, and I know that she did as well.
What is the most important attribute to be a leader in your community and why?
I hold a firm belief that responsible leadership includes uplifting and centering the voices of those who are marginalized. I believe that this attribute comes from listening to the lived experiences of people within your community and allowing that to be what leads your work. To me, leadership includes the nurturing of meaningful relationships that are built on trust and mutual aid. Positive change is born in and of the community, and a leader facilitates and holds space for this change to happen. 
What does this award mean to you?
This award highlights the importance of continuous education and commitment to community. It has been financially challenging to attend both undergraduate and graduate school while taking on unpaid internships and volunteer work. Despite these challenges, I know that this work is necessary and rewarding, and scholarships such as this one, help to support my needs so that I can continue my work.
What has been your most rewarding volunteer experience?
My most rewarding volunteer experience was having the opportunity to work with Amupakin, an association of Kichwa parteras (midwives) in the Napo region of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This experience was very impactful and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in accessing reproductive rights and services, and the harmful effects of the displacement of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral homelands. During this experience, and while attending my first live birth, I felt confident in the direction of my chosen career path. 
What or who inspired you to choose your major?
I am motivated by a strong sense of justice, a belief in the fundamental right to move, and the need for equitable access to services for all – accounting for and affirming intersecting identities of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and citizenship status. As a second-generation immigrant, with a parent who came to Canada as a refugee from Chile, I have always been interested in asking questions about the nuances of conflict. During my undergraduate degree, studying Conflict Studies and Human Rights at the University of Ottawa, I learned the importance of seeking alternative narratives and I have focused a lot on the ways that conflict affects women, in particular. While asking these many questions, I am drawn to the experiences of women accessing their reproductive rights while navigating migration and asylum-seeking processes. We must continue asking who is not being recognized, and who falls through the cracks of the systems that are currently in place.
How did COVID-19 change your volunteering experience and what has it taught you?
COVID-19 has taught me the importance of finding creative ways to adapt and has highlighted the need for mutual aid and support within our communities. It has caused me to reflect on how we are showing up for our community and making sure people are safe and have their needs met. The pandemic has also moved a lot of work online. Particularly in my work as a doula, I am learning how to advocate and support people in labour virtually, as hospitals and birth centres are adjusting to policies that limit the amount of support people allowed to accompany someone giving birth.
What do you hope to accomplish this school year?
I am set to graduate at the end of this school year, and the majority of my year will be dedicated to working on my Major Research Paper (MPR). This is the largest research project I have ever taken on and I am looking forward to this challenge. I am also set to complete my full spectrum doula training this year and look forward to building my practice and forming new relationships with clients.
Claudia preparing food at the midwifery centre in Ecuador.
Claudia with her dad and mom, Terrilynne Bannon, Parcelization Coordinator, in the Muskoka-Parry Sound office.