Zoya Jiwa and Mark Walkerl-r: Zoya Jiwa, with SFU Registrar Mark Walker, says life is like a snow globe. "Sometimes things have to be shaken up for us to realize how beautiful, magical and precious [life] truly is.”

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Community-engaged undergrad awarded 2015 Terry Fox Gold Medal

September 14, 2015
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Zoya Jiwa, Simon Fraser University’s 2015 Terry Fox Gold Medal recipient,  knows what it takes to overcome adversity with grace and fortitude.

At age 14, she was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE), a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in her organs and tissues, along with debilitating fatigue.

“Suddenly, my life was not about what I wanted to do; it was about what I could manage to do,” says Jiwa.

Learning to accept and accommodate this disorder in the midst of the already harrowing teen years was a “powerful challenge,” she admits. But with the support of her family and friends, she endured a year-and-a-half of medical treatments and emerged with a positive outlook.

She has since dedicated herself to sharing her experiences and perspective on handling adversity.

In Grade 12 she collaborated with a youth worker at Dr. Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam to found Simply You, an eight-session community program to help students aged 11-16 build self-confidence and leaderships skills. Within two years, she had expanded the program to six Coquitlam schools.

She then began offering personal development workshops and also shared her story at national student leadership conferences and via TEDx talks.

“We cannot always control what happens to us,” says Jiwa, who at age 19 was also diagnosed with Fibromylagia—a disorder characterized by widespread, intense pain in muscles and soft tissue.

“But we can control how we respond to overwhelming situations.”

This fall marks Jiwa’s fourth year at SFU, majoring in sociology. Earlier this summer she completed a five-month fellowship with RADIUS, a social innovation lab and venture incubator connected with SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

During the program she developed a blog, As We Are, to further her interest in peer mentorship, storytelling, and creating collaborations to support individuals experiencing the symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, discomfort, and chronic pain.

“It’s a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines,” she says. “I see it as a platform to foster social inclusion, build self-confidence, and create a community of celebration.

“While focus is usually placed on living a vibrant life ‘when you are feeling better,’ this is a space to celebrate and embrace who we are, as we are, in this moment.”

Jiwa is honoured to be recognized with the Fox gold medal for her community contributions, but says her biggest accomplishment is “continuously practicing resilience.”

Over the past year, she suffered a second Lupus flare-up, undergoing six months of treatments. Fortunately, she says, she can study at her own pace, taking just three courses a semester.

“When I was diagnosed with these conditions, it was like my whole world was being turned upside down. Thankfully, I have learned that life is like a snow globe. Sometimes, things have to be shaken up for us to realize how beautiful, magical and precious it truly is.”

On Friday, Oct. 2 at the Terry Fox Run/Walk at the Burnaby campus, SFU President Petter will present Jiwa with the Terry Fox Gold Medal in recognition of her courage in the face of adversity, and her dedication to society. The award includes three free terms at SFU, a $1,000 cash prize, a gold medal and a plaque.