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Standing tall in the face of adversity

By Don Fennell

Published 11:28 PST, Wed November 24, 2021

Immigrating from war-torn Syria, Maria Karaji is making the most of her new-found opportunities

As the bombs fell across the street from her school, Maria Karaji’s biggest concern was the safety of her friends.

Five years later her focus remains on the plight of others.

Since emigrating with her family from Syria in 2016, the young Richmondite has been dedicated to creating a better life for herself and those around her. Her commitment in the face of many obstacles has only strengthened her resolve to raise awareness of the dangers many women and children around the world face on a daily basis.

With keen interests in law and psychology, Karaji—who graduated from Hugh Boyd Secondary School just last June—is now studying at the University of British Columbia. Being afforded such an opportunity is only possible because of her relentless work ethic, one that enabled her to master English and garner several academic awards including the prestigious Beedie Luminaries Scholarship and the Coast Capital Standing Tall Education Award presented to exceptional students who are facing financial adversity. The Coast Capital award includes $3,500 to help with the cost of post-secondary tuition and living expenses and is also unique because it helps youth from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

“During the last few years it has been hard for my family to achieve financial stability and they aren’t able to help me pay for post-secondary education,” explained Karaji. “Receiving this award from Coast Capital means my family will not have to deal with additional financial burdens and I can pursue my educational goals without the added stress.”

Maureen Young, director of Coast Capital’s Social Purpose Office, said “We believe that accessing a post-secondary education shouldn’t be a dream, but a reality for anyone looking to build a better future for themselves and their communities.”

Hugh Boyd counsellor Geordy Reid isn’t surprised by Karaji’s accomplishments.

“Her story has a narrative a lot of people can’t even conceive of or would (not) be able to endure. She and her family have had to face so many hardships, but she took it upon herself (to make the most of all opportunities). Not only did she help her parents and little brother learn English, but achieved really strong grades and volunteered all over the school. When you talk to her you think you’re talking to a 25-year-old, but I guess that’s what happens when you’ve had to live a few lives.”

While Karaji’s efforts have earned some well-deserved help as she pursues her life goals, not once, Reid says, has Karaji ever felt a sense of entitlement.

“She never asked for handouts, or even told her story to people who didn’t want to actually seek her out,” Reid says. “You’d never know (her story). She presents such a mature, articulate (demeanour) and is super humbling and appreciative.”

The father of a toddler, Reid says he’s thought about the sheer contrast of Karaji’s childhood to the world in which his daughter will likely grow up. He’s wondered about how a parent can instill those values, morals and resiliency in their child without having the same first-hand experience of the world.

“It’s no surprise Maria wants to try to help others,” he says. “Even in her own social life it was obvious she always wanted to be there for people, and to make those around her feel supported. She’s going to be a leader; one of those kids who when we see her leading the way in the future, we will say ‘I knew her when.’”

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