Volunteer and grow strong

Posted on Sunday, June 18, 2017

Natania Abebe at her June 2017 convocation ceremony, with uOttawa Chancellor Calin Rovinescu (left) and President Jacques Frémont. Photo: Mélanie Provencher

Spring 2017 Convocation: Decisive moments

Natania Abebe (BSc ’17 in nursing) looked for opportunities to help others while at uOttawa and discovered her own strengths along the way.

In a traditional Ethiopian dress called habesha kemis.

The idea that volunteering is a good thing to do was ingrained in me from a young age. But until after my first year of university, I didn’t fully understand why that is. During my first year at uOttawa, I didn’t take part in any extracurricular activities, but I did travel to Ethiopia to volunteer in a medical clinic, where I learned about supports in the healthcare system there. That experience inspired me to study nursing and look for opportunities to volunteer back in Ottawa in ways that were true to myself.

Volunteering is great because by helping others, you help yourself. I didn’t feel like I belonged on campus at first, but a sense of belonging developed after I very deliberately made an effort to try to help other people. I started a uOttawa chapter of Campus Cursive, a mental health initiative that involves letter-writing and acts of kindness aimed at brightening people’s spirits. And in the process of trying to help other students become stronger and bolder, I emboldened myself.

When I started university, I was starving for a mentor. But I never did find one particular person. Instead, through all my endeavours, I met many people who inspire me. The experiences I had at uOttawa connected me to the right people for the right reasons, with one thing — or person — leading to another. For example, I met Nathan Adolphe as a result of my involvement in Campus Cursive and knowing him led to meeting Noah Severino — and then the three of us launched a children’s cancer charity, Stars in a Jar.

Every student has their own journey, but I think nursing is especially hard because you’re dealing constantly with people facing immense health challenges. I feel relieved to have made it through my degree, but I’m also thankful for all the trials it put me through. I respect myself so much more for having gone through them. My friends and I all have this sense of “wow, I did this and I’m proud of myself!”

The contrast between who I am now and who I was when I started university is stark. I’m not the same person at all. University has taught me that you can’t predict how life unfolds, but you can change how you respond to it. Resilience can be built — and you’re stronger than you think you are.

Related story: Spreading hope, one star at a time

Natania Abebe has launched children's cancer charity Stars in a Jar with Noah Severino (left) and Nathan Adolphe.

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