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YES AWARDS - Honouring Oak Bay’s exceptional youth - Leah Smith
A girl from Malawi bolstered Leah Smith’s desire to give to others.
The visitor to Canada was part of Malawi Girls on the Move and told her tale of a domineering father who, in an effort to save funds, sent her away to live with an uncle. That uncle chose to educate the youth through the Girls on the Move schooling program.
“Ever since, she’s gained so much respect from her father,” Smith said. “It has an effect on everyone around them … and that’s just one of their stories.”
The Grade 7 student at Lansdowne middle school started raising money for Malawi Girls on the Move in Grade 4 when she met co-founder Christy Johnson at a garden party with her mom.
Their mission is to offer quality education to girls from the rural areas of Malawi who would be otherwise unable to continue with their education beyond primary school, due to a lack of financial support.
The cause spurred Smith to create crafts and sell them at fairs around the region over the past two years. Last month, she held a silent auction that raised $6,216.65 for the fund, a number she can spout off the top of her head.
That work is just one of the reasons she got a great 13th birthday present this year. While enjoying a birthday frozen yogurt with her dad and a friend, he got the email saying she’d won an Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star award.
Along with the overseas work, Smith is heavily involved in the Eco Action group at school where last year they did a garbage audit and reduced trash by 75 per cent (for which the school got an EcoStar award in 2013).
She and a couple of friends also organized a Christmas toy drive for the Salvation Army shop.
“That way parents who couldn’t afford anything could go there,” Smith said. Then there are her other projects through Me to We and opportunities through Guides and Pathfinders.
“It’s just something she’s always done,” said her mom, Julie Wallace. “It gives her a lot of skills working with groups, being a leader … confidence.”
Smith sings in the school choir and takes vocal lessons outside of class, as well as playing flute and percussion in band. Then there’s the guitar she picked up three years ago.
“Guitar is my favourite. I get to be most free with that,” she said, espousing the great teaching style of Paul O’Brien.
The straight A student also went to provincials in the Canadian Parents for French public speaking competition last year, making it as far as regionals this year.
On the athletic side she enjoys running, making the podium in the 800k this year and as a longtime soccer player on the Bays Silver 2 team this year.
But volunteering is what drives her most.
“I like the satisfaction of helping someone else,” Smith said.