Meet Don Mill's Collegiate Ambassadors Oviya Muruganantha & Saniyah Farzeen
The formation of a Cam’s Kids team at Toronto’s Don Mills Collegiate was in no means simple, and anyone who has convinced themselves otherwise has to understand how its formation came about.
Saniyah Farzeen and Oviya Muruganantha came to Don Mills’ gifted program unaware of each other but soon became fast friends when they discovered they had a shared passion for Marvel comics and movies.
“Saniyah has a lot of friends here from her grade school but I came to Don Mills with no friends or even people that I knew,” recalls Oviya.
For her part, Saniyah says meeting and getting to know Oviya “was kind of like a breath of fresh air; getting to meet someone new…not the same person you’ve been talking to for the past six years. And, surprisingly, we had a lot in common.”
So what does their friendship have to do with Cam’s Kids and, in particular, the formation of one of the only high school-based Cam’s Kids teams to date? Well, as things turned out, everything.
“My sister, who’s part of the University of Toronto chapter of Cam’s Kids, told me about Cam’s Kids and recommended I fill out the Ambassador application and see where it takes me,” recalls Saniyah, who did just that before chatting with then-National Ambassador Coordinator Vanessa Morgan to learn more.
Oviya, meanwhile, came across Cam’s Kids while searching for a new volunteer opportunity. Like Saniyah, she emailed the organization to learn more before taking the plunge.
“Cam’s Kids immediately got back to me and asked ‘Do you know a girl named Saniyah? She goes to the same school as you and she recently contacted us.’ I was like ‘Oh my God, she’s my best friend. Maybe we can start something and get more students involved.’”
Saniyah and Oviya did indeed “start something,” now serving as co-Team Leads of their high school’s Cam’s Kids chapter. Although it officially came into being in late 2021, the team already boasts more than 15 members – a nice mix of student ambassadors simply keen to help when needed.
“Oviya and I were kind of nervous,” admits Saniyah.
“Mental health is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about. So when we were like ‘We’re starting a mental health club’ which, to our surprise, our school didn’t have, we were worried no one would join. That caused us some anxiety and stress. But we casually brought it up in our friend group and they were so supportive. They loved the idea.”
The first steps, notes Oviya, saw the team brainstorm ideas around events and outreach. Key to the start-up were regular check-ins with National Ambassador Coordinator Sarah Mosher who kept the group motivated and on task. Just before the Christmas break, Cam’s Kids made its Don Mills presence known by distributing candy canes to exam-stressed students.
“Getting a candy cane on a hard day makes it all better,” assesses Saniyah.
“Now we’re trying to have more meetings and get more events in to make up for the time we’ve lost (due to earlier imposed COVID restrictions),” says Oviya.
While grateful for the support they received that led to Cam’s Kids now having a presence at their school, and humbly proud to be founders of the foundation’s first high school program, Saniyah and Oviya say it’s important to understand that anxiety is just as prevalent at their grade level as it is in the post-secondary area.
“In high school, you’re stressing about getting into post-secondary,” says Saniyah.
“Your life revolves around grades and making sure you can get into a good university or college. Up to high school, you have a straight path you have to go on. Once you get to that point where you have to choose what you want to do in post-secondary, the stress comes all at once and it’s really hard.”
“Maybe we can inspire more of these types of clubs in high schools,” adds Oviya, noting “Our age group struggles with a lot of mental health issues.”
Still, while the landscape is different, the message is generally the same.
“They [students] don’t realize how common anxiety is,” says Saniyah.
“The message to them is they’re not alone. The fact that people around you are feeling the same as you makes you think you’re not crazy; that there’s nothing wrong with you. That it’s normal [to have anxiety].”
“Letting them know they have a support system…that there are people in your life that love you and care about you,” adds Oviya.
Now, as they go about the business of strengthening Cam’s Kids’ footprint on the Don Mills Collegiate scene – they’re both chomping at the bit for the fall when in-person events will again be the norm – Saniya and Oviya are already looking ahead to the time when they can continue their Cam’s Kids involvement at the post-secondary level.
“When you’re involved with Cam’s Kids, the happiness you get is so rewarding,” says Oviya.
“Making other people smile makes me love what I do even more. The experience has encouraged me to take more responsibility and leadership.”
And for those students who may be looking to bring Cam’s Kids to their high school, Saniyah has but three words – “Go for it.”
“Don’t let anything stop you. It seems impossible at first to start but once you get started, you have the resources to help. Once you find your group of Ambassadors, it will all be worth it.”