As a student, it can be hard to make time to involve yourself in the community. Between studying and assignments, most use whatever downtime they have to relax or party. But there are still plenty who are making a difference, and one group is trying to place themselves in others shoes to fully understand how the less fortunate live.
The Leadership and Mentorship Program and the Student Success Centre at Western organized the Borrowed Shoes Diversity Challenge, a five-day event designed to push students outside of their comfort zone and raise awareness of important issues in our world today. Students had the opportunity to meet new people and learn about different lifestyles in the community. Jeremy Ho is a member of LAMP and explains why having perspective is important.
“I think it’s because a lot of times in society there are a lot of difficulties we never really see. I think it’s a great opportunity to experience the fact that there are a lot of things that we should be more empathetic about.”
Over the course of the week, students learned about mental health and cancer awareness from guest speakers, took part in the 24 Hour Famine, and visited the local Ronald McDonald house.
“When you take part in these things then you have greater empathy and recognition,” Ho adds. “You almost feel more empowered to make that change and make a difference.”
One of the more striking messages came from Boyd Dunleavey. Boyd was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia in 2011.
“After several rounds of treatment the news wasn’t good. I was given a ten percent chance of living the year. But I survived that. They found me a stem cell donor through onematch.ca”
Boyd was matched up with an American soldier serving overseas in Japan, and a year later he underwent a life-saving stem cell transplant at a hospital in Hamilton. He then developed a virus as a side effect of the transplant that attacked the nerves in his neck, and he says that it nearly killed him. But then people started running for him at Relay for Life events, which inspired Boyd to get involved.
“I was 30 pounds overweight. That’s from being in a hospital bed, that’s from being sick with blood cancer. I started running, I lost 30 pounds, and then I gained 10 pounds of muscle. I’ve gotten a lot stronger. Having had blood cancer, I figured running was a good way to get the blood flowing and stay healthy.”
Outside of the personal health benefits, he felt empowered by the people he met along the way.
“The running community is an incredible, supportive, caring community. Every single event I’ve done, and I’ve probably done 15-20 in the last year or so, there’s always a charity. There’s always something that people are getting behind.”
In the end, some day-to-day things might get Boyd down. His birth name is David Boyd Dunleavey, but he preferred to by Boyd. After getting called David all the time in the hospital, he legally changed it to Boyd David Dunleavey in an attempt to end the confusion. People still get it wrong on occasion, but he knows things could be far worse.
“I would rather be living, with my name not spelt right, than having passed on and they got my name proper. I would rather be living with nerve damage in my neck than having died of cancer. I’m alive. It’s a miracle. I’m just thrilled to be alive.”
Boyd’s life was saved through the One Match program, and he recommends people sign up for the service, to give blood, because something that seems so inconsequential could end up saving someone’s life. Take a day to live in borrowed shoes, and you’ll see a whole new world. Making a difference can be as easy as stepping out of your comfort zone.