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The experience inspired her to begin volunteering with other refugee youth entering Canada going through similar experiences, though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited those efforts.

“When I came here I found the most challenging thing for refugees and immigrants is balancing their academic life with extracurriculars,” Yaqoob said. “I wanted to be helpful to people who I could relate to, to give them advice that could be useful.

“Every day when I go home I feel a big reward that I was able to make people’s days better and give them hope. Most of them are in high school and really struggling with English, and I think my story shows you can succeed.”

While in her first year of medical school, Yaqoob helped co-found the Calgary STEM Cell chapter, with a focus on recruiting people of colour to become stem-cell donors, as the group is underrepresented on Canada’s donor registry. Because stem-cell matches depend on DNA markers often specific to ethnic background, a diverse donor base in important, she said.

The program recruited about 100 donors in its first year and has brought on more than 500 to date.

Yaqoob said she is grateful to be recognized with the award, which included a special youth distinction.

“I’ve been here for not even 10 years, and to be able to do this is amazing. I’m really happy and humble to be getting this,” she said.

“Immigrants and youth who are coming into Canada, at an age similar to mine, who feel like they’re hitting a wall or they can’t contribute much, I hope they can read this story and see how much opportunity is here for people to grow and really make their dreams come true, even if it seems impossible.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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