Shilpa Varghese joins thousands of students this month as she heads to university to begin her post-secondary education.
But the first-year student at the University of Guelph has one less thing to worry about than most students beginning their university life.
Her first-year tuition is taken care of courtesy the scholarships she won in high school. She received an entrance scholarship from the University of Guelph for $3000, $2000 from the bursary and $2000 through the Foresters Scholarship Fund for her commitment to community service and academics.
The Foresters Scholarship recognizes the difference she made in her community.
“While many students are playing video games and cruising through their local malls, Shilpa is doing great things out in Brampton,” said a spokesperson.
This included putting in 240 hours at William Osler Health Centre helping CT Technicians and patients take various scans, looking after children at her local church, peer tutoring at school and reading to young children at her local library.
“I want to become a pharmacist and wanted to gain hospital experience. At William Osler Health Centre I helped patients change into hospital gowns and directed them to the right area, etc.,” she says.
Looking after children at her church included volunteering at the Sunday School where she entertained the children, keeping them busy.
“And making sure they don’t yell!” she confesses with a giggle.
Shilpa also tutored students in grades below her at school in Math and Science and helped kids with their reading through a reading program at the public library.
All this and making the honours roll at school took some time management skills.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of work in high school,” says Shilpa. “That has to be your first priority. I always made sure my school projects and assignments were completed on time. I tried not to load too many activities in a day. For instance, if I had reading buddies at the library on Thursdays, I volunteered at the hospital on Fridays.”
Sounds simple enough and yet there were days when the teen didn’t get to bed before two or three in the morning, waking up in a few hours for school.
“All our kids are involved in community work,” says Kuzhikalayil Varghese, her father.
“All of them maintain a busy, packed schedule. Sometimes, as parents, we think they are working too hard. I mean they are working when we go to bed and still at it when we wake up the next morning. But then we think they know what it takes to succeed in this country.”
Originally from Kerala, India, Varghese worked as a research assistant in the chemistry lab at Kuwait University and his wife, Sicily, was a nurse in the Ministry of Health, before coming to Canada in 2001.
“My wife and I can only guide them, we can’t help them with their studies as we studied in a completely different system! Kids here are so much more independent!”
These words voice the feelings of many new and prospective immigrants. When the Vargheses decided to leave behind a prosperous life in Kuwait for the unsettled life of an immigrant, it was for a better future for their children.
But his parents were concerned about their grandchildren being led astray in the Western world.
“Oh yeah!” he laughs. “They told us the children would get spoiled in the West as here children have too many things and too much freedom. But I told them we were confident we’d be able to bring up our children with the same values they imparted to me.
“By the grace of God, I feel we have been fortunate in having accomplished that. Shlpa, Shigin and Shawn are making us proud. They all volunteer at Salvation Army and the City of Brampton. They know how to balance school work and extracurricular activities. We have never had to say, ‘Study, study, study,’ to them!”
It took sacrifices and lots of planning.
While Sicily found a job as a nurse at William Osler, Varghese couldn’t find a job in his field and moved to environmental technology after doing a course at Centennial College. He now works at Scarborough Grace Hospital. They could both have taken on extra hours, worked overtime and made more money, he says, but felt it was important for at least one parent to be with the children in their formative years.
“It is very important for parents to spend time with their children,” he says. “At the same time, we give our children a lot more freedom than we had growing up, and they respect it. They have good heads on their shoulders.”
“I tell people they have nothing to worry about where bringing up children in Canada is concerned. In fact, this is a great place to bring up your children in! The opportunities for growth here are phenomenal. There are so many scholarships good students can aim for.
“The way Sicily and I see it, good students have many more opportunities here and those that get distracted and lose focus, well, that could have happened anywhere. It’s not to do with the country, but with the parenting style and varies from individual to individual.
“In my experience, in material terms, we have lots more facilities after moving to Canada. The children have benefited from growing up in a caring society. You don’t have to worry about whether your children will keep their values if you keep yours!”
• Every year, Foresters grants up to 80 post-secondary education scholarships across Canada worth up to $8,000 each for demonstrating academic excellence, leadership qualities and a strong commitment to their community. For more info on Foresters Scholarships, visit www.foresters.com.
Shilpa Varghese’s tips on how to maximize community involvement while maintaining high grades:
• Talk to your school counselors. They always have programs going at school and they also know of events where you can volunteer.
• Hospitals and public libraries list volunteering opportunities on their websites, check these regularly.
• Use your school agenda! It’s not meant to doodle in, but to help you plan your days. Don’t cram too many activities in on one day, give yourself enough time to meet assignment deadlines for school work.