The following post was written by Luciana Prado, Website Writer.
On the 23rd of October, the Unitarian Church of Vancouver held a small ceremony during its Sunday service to award Gurkiran Mann the 2016 John Gibbard Award for Youth recognizing her exemplary work representing the spirit of the United Nations and to celebrate UN Sunday. Kiran is currently in her fourth year at UBC pursuing a degree in behavioural neuroscience and physiology in the Health Sciences Department. Kiran is an inspiring young woman who has worked with others in Guatemala, Haiti, and the Phillipines, and co-founded Youth Transforming Society (YTS), a registered non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of global issues and encourage volunteerism among young people, and where she serves as Director of Special Events.
Before the ceremony, Rev. Steven Epperson explained the important role Unitarians play in promoting social justice locally and globally thorough UN consultative status and the advocacy work of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its United Nations Office (UU-UNO) He also highlighted the active role Unitarians played in the League of Nations and later creating the United Nations where, through the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), an Advisory Committee on the United Nations was formed thereby enabling their principles and purposes to be included to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their involvement also contributed to the creation of the International Criminal Court and continue to provide strong leadership in all aspects of human rights at policy level, from climate justice initiatives to sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
In order to celebrate UN Day, Rev. Epperson highlighted the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since its adoption by the General Assembly in 1948 by “enacting dozens of legally binding international agreements on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights [which] set high standards to which the international community agrees to aspire and achieve, in principle and practice”. He focused on key aspects of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the importance of protecting the human rights of people with disability in light of a recent Charter challenge to certain provisions in the BC Mental Health Act introduced in September in BC Provincial courts.
Lawyers from the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) of BC submitted on behalf of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and two individuals being medically treated against their will, and argue that BC’s mental health laws deprive involuntary patients of their Charter rights to equality and to life, liberty, and security of the persons. Rev. Epperson emphasized the fact that the recent provisions “single out a particular class of people and denies them the basic of equality, liberty, and security guaranteed by law to every other person in this Province and this nation”; thus, making BC the only jurisdiction in Canada that provides compulsory treatment.
During her acceptance speech, Kiran talked about her childhood, the importance of raising awareness of local and global humanitarian issues, and volunteering among the youth in the community. She told the audience that her desire to study neuroscience and physiology first arose when her grandfather was diagnosed with early stage of prostate cancer. Kiran’s mother advised her to approach a teacher at her school while her grandpa was undergoing radiation therapy and asked “what do I have to do to become a doctor, because I want to be the one administering the injections to my grandpa.” Since then she has continually worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor.
By connecting the benefits of volunteering for a better quality of living for all in society, Kiran spoke briefly about the mental and physical aspects of volunteering and the significance a few hours a week can bring to a community. Youth Transforming Society started 6 years ago when Kiran was in grade 10 with 3 co-founders and today the organization has grown to a team of 23 Executive Members and more than 150 volunteers, managing to raise more than $50,000 for special causes and events, such as a ‘YTS Volunteering and Beyond: An Evening of Opportunities’, which serves as a platform for students to connect with organizations. The Holiday Breakfast will be held in December in partnership with the Salvation Army and serves more than 300 homeless individuals in Surrey.
Another interesting initiative by YTS is the Mentorship Program for girls in grades 5 to 7 called “I am” that aims to make the transition from elementary to high school easier by connecting students to female students in their peer high school. The program facilitates the transition of new students by making them feel welcome in a new and intimidating environment. By drawing from Kiran’s own experiences, this program addresses issues related to bullying, self-esteem, nutrition, fitness, and other topics that are essential to improve young girls well- being and ensure they perform well in school.
You can watch Kiran’s speen in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peJa7M4suYY