Gold Medal Award Recipient - Zoya Jiwa

Registrar and Executive Director of Enrollment, Mark Walker (right), congratulates student Zoya Jiwa (left) on being this year's recipient of SFU's Terry Fox Gold Medal award (2015).

Zoya Jiwa's Story

At 14 years old I was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE), an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation in my organs. Alongside Lupus, I have Fibromyalgia (FM), which is characterized by intense pain in muscles and soft tissues.

In the early years after my diagnosis, I endured a powerful challenge to my self-esteem due to the physical and internal side effects of medications: exhausting fatigue, weight fluctuations, stubborn acne, and overall weakness. Suddenly, my life was not about what I wanted to do; it was about what I could manage to do. With the support of my family and friends, I finished the medication treatment with a positive outlook and hopeful heart. Ever since, I have found happiness in transforming my personal obstacles into opportunities to learn from and grow with others in my community.

My self-esteem struggles inspired me to ensure that other youth in my high school did not have to deal with similar challenges alone. In Grade 12, I collaborated with the Youth Worker at my high school and founded Simply You: an eight-session community program with the goals of building self-confidence, self-awareness, and leadership skills in students ages 11 to 16. Simply You sessions included deconstructing media images, discussing body image and mental health, art classes, exercise classes, and more. Within less than two years, my message of embracing inner beauty reached thousands of students: through expanding Simply You to six schools in Coquitlam, organizing empowering student-led workshops, and presenting at several schools and community events. By June 2014, over 70 students had graduated from the program. When Simply You ended, I began facilitating personal development workshops to share my experiences with people of all ages, including themes of self-confidence, mental wellness, gratitude, and leadership. I am grateful to have shared my voice on platforms including TEDx and national student leadership conferences. I acknowledge that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to overwhelming situations.

Today, I am excited to enter my fourth year of Sociology studies at SFU. My greatest interests, questions, and ideas are found at the intersection of social innovation and community building. I also recently completed a five-month fellowship with RADIUS, the social innovation lab and venture incubator connected to the SFU Beedie School of Business. Through this program, I developed a project that is close to my heart. It’s called As We Are.

Guided by values of community, creativity, and confidence, As We Are combines peer mentorship, storytelling, and impactful collaborations to co-create resources to support individuals experiencing symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, discomfort, and chronic pain. This is a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines. It features, for example, ideal clothing for weight fluctuations, sensitive skin, and tender joints. It shares positive personal stories and pieces of advice from people managing similar situations. I see my project 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.

While I am incredibly thankful to be recognized for my community contributions and academic achievements, I consider my biggest accomplishment to be continuously practicing resilience. Like anyone else, I have my good days and bad days. Although my Lupus and Fibromyalgia have been active over the past year, my education at SFU allows me to learn at my own pace. 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.

I am incredibly grateful and honoured to be the recipient of the 2015 Terry Fox Gold Medal and Prize. It is incredible to have such generous support and encouragement to continue whole-heartedly on my journey. Thank you!

~ Zoya Jiwa

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