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Helping those in need motivates these two graduating students

U of T Scarborough students Nikki Shah and Fariha Ekra, who both celebrated convocation on June 2, worked tirelessly during their time as undergraduates to help those in need around the world.

They may have graduated from two different academic programs, but U of T Scarborough students Fariha Ekra and Nikki Shah are connected in one important aspect – their desire to help those in need around the world. 

In 2013, Ekra, a sociology and public policy student, travelled to Bangladesh to personally deliver money raised for victims of a factory collapse that left over 1,100 people dead and many more injured.

As the founder and president of Young Canadians for Global Humanity, her group raised $9,000 for amputee victims of the building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh. The not-for-profit organization continues with its aim of encouraging young people to get involved in humanitarian efforts all over the world.

“I’ve always felt that the most important thing to remember is that you don’t lose anything by helping other people. Helping others shouldn’t be reduced to a system of bartering in which you help someone with the intention of receiving something back,” she says.

“My motto is pretty simple; be humble, be selfless, and try to help others whenever you get the chance.”

In addition to being an executive of the Young Liberals Association at UTSC, Ekra also held executive positions with the Political Science Students Association and the Scarborough Youth Philanthropic Council at the Scarborough Hospital.

Her desire to help those exploited through weak global policies and her research interests led her to the Masters of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy and Governance at U of T, where she will begin in the fall. 

It should come as no surprise that one of her research interests is the issue of worker safety and how it relates to global policy and development.

“Public policy is rooted in bettering our society through the research, analysis and development of policies that tackle social and economic issues in our society. In essence, it’s part of a broader category of helping others and really influenced my decision to pursue a Masters in it.”

Shah, a human biology and psychology graduate, was deeply affected by Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in 2013. After seeing images of the crisis on TV, she decided to do something about it.

“I wanted to help those people, but I was only one person. I knew I needed help.”

That’s when she founded UTSC Friends of MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders). Since then, the group has grown to include hundreds of members. They help send medics and other support workers to people affected by natural disasters, conflicts and pandemics all over the world.

She’s also proud of a speaker series she was able to help organize featuring the Vice-President of MSF Canada – and U of T alum – Dr. Saleem Kassam. Shah’s interest in health care came out of her own struggles with health when she was younger as well as family members who suffered through poor health.

During her time at U of T Scarborough Shah was also an executive at the UTSC chapters of UNICEF and Free the Children, but she also participates in groundbreaking scientific research.

“I’m currently working at SickKids Hospital, helping conduct research on how extremely preterm babies perceive and communicate pain. Our findings will help improve the way they receive medical care in the future,” she says.

After graduation, she wants to pursue a career in public or global health.

“If you don’t have good health, nothing else matters,” she says. “It’s very hard to dwell on the fact that so many don’t have access to adequate healthcare, and it’s something that really motivates me.” 


© University of Toronto Scarborough