Young Immigrant Awards finalists prove the kids really are alright

March 9, 2018

By Calgary Herald |

She fled her home country on foot, a seven-year-old girl and her extended family members running for their lives.

“Those images of the war are still pretty vivid for me,” says Ruth Legese, a native of Ethiopia who came to Canada more than a dozen years ago. “In the refugee camp in Kenya, I lived with 21 women and children in one apartment.”

If that burden wasn’t enough, her mother soon became ill. “She was misdiagnosed with heart disease when she had thyroid cancer,” says the now 19-year-old. “Through those years, faith and family kept me going.”

Legese had a few other things going for her, namely, the kind of grit and determination few even develop over a lifetime. After settling in Calgary as a newcomer, she quickly began making her name known, first as an environmental advocate in high school, then as a volunteer and academic achiever.

“I’m a chancellor’s scholar at the University of Calgary,” says the young woman proudly. “I hope to study medicine and eventually go into pediatric cardiology.”

With just this quick snapshot, then, it’s not hard to see why Legese is one of many being recognized on Friday at the 22nd annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards, an annual event sponsored by Immigrant Services Calgary (

The awards, which recognize the contributions new Canadians are making to our community, are in eight areas, which includes Youth Scholarship Awards (14 to 24 years of age), the category in which Legese is a finalist.

Speaking to several of the other young people in this category on the eve of the awards, one thing is clear from the get-go: all are so impressive, they are more than worthy of being celebrated in their adopted home of Calgary.

When Mehul Gupta is asked about his many achievements over the past few years, he speaks with the rapid-fire excitement of a typical 18-year-old. Not many 18-year-olds, though, can rattle off such accomplishments as sitting on a national advisory council for the Kids Help Phone and helping to raise more than $60,000 for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, just to name two.

Gupta, who came with his family to Canada from India as a toddler, says he learned a lot about thriving from his parents Chetma and Anil Gupta. “They got their PhDs in Thailand, but when they came here they had to upgrade their education,” says the young man in his first year at the University of Calgary, hoping to pursue a degree in medicine.

“Also, my grandmother back in India is someone who has always given back to her community and she encouraged me to do the same.”

Like Gupta, Jenny Liao credits her parents Anquan and Yan for serving as guides to better living. “When they came to Canada they both changed careers,” says the fourth-year U of C student in health sciences, who like Gupta, plans a career in medicine. “I saw how hard they worked and persisted through so many challenges. They taught me that if you put your heart and passion into your work, you can accomplish whatever it is you want to do.”

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