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I met Sal Sabila at the Monarch Park ping pong table this week.

She was sitting on the table. She doe not play ping pong, it turned out. But I brought two paddles, and Sal is always game to try something new.

She’s the winner of this years’s DECA Young Leaders scholarship.

She told me her story, in between trips under the table to collect the ball.

Sal arrived to Canada from Bangladesh six years ago, with her little brother, mom and dad. She didn’t speak any English, but she was clearly a quick learner. Three years later, she enrolled into the brainy International Baccalaureate program at Monarch Park. She’s a math whiz. She got 97 per cent in Grade 10 Principles of Mathematics. She’s going to the University of Toronto next year, to study mathematics and physical sciences. She wants to become a high school math teacher.

The DECA scholarship isn’t for academics though. It’s for community activism.

So Sal told me about the “amazing dream” she had a year ago. It was of a room filled with passionate teenagers, talking about problems and dreaming up ways to tackle them. Big problems: human trafficking, racial inequality, poverty. Seriously.

“People don’t believe me when I say this,” she said. “But it really was a dream.”

So she drafted a poster and put it up around her Regent Park apartment. It said “Youth Council, Regent Park. Come let’s have a passionate talk.” Unsurprisingly, nobody came to that first meeting. But she persisted. In the past year, Youth Gravity (that’s what she called the group) has done some impressive things. They hosted a community potluck with the nearby Native Cultural Centre to mix local residents with their indigenous neighbours. They ran a donation drive for the local women’s shelter, collecting more than 1,000 pieces of clothing. The organized a march on International Women’s Day.

But that’s not all. While she was doing all that in her neighbourhood, she was doing amazing things in ours too, at Monarch Park Collegiate.

She launched the local women’s empowerment club, called 50/50. And she started the mental health club called “Rise Above” because, in the middle of all this activism, she was diagnosed with clinical depression.

 “There’s very strong stigma around anything to do with mental health,” she said. “My community activism was the only thing I’d get out of bed for.”

I could have talked to her all afternoon. But she had to run. She won the Toronto Youth Award for 2016 from the Toronto Police and had a photo appointment at Station 51. As we were packing up our stuff, she asked me if I knew anything about pay equity the wage gap.

“It’s really terrible,” she said, before racing off. “We have to do something about it!”

I think she might just.

Now, the DECA Young Leaders Scholarship is $2000. We’ve committed to raise at least half of that, and Scadding Court Community Centre will kick in the rest.

You can help us do it by finding a partner and signing up for DECA’s second annual Table Tennis for Tuition Tournament, happening in three local parks this June. You will play in one “mini-tournament” at 6 pm on either June 1, 8 or 15. If you win that, you’ll go onto the finals on June 22, at East Lynn Park.

You’ll have fun, meet your neighbours, win some awesome local prizes and help pay for Sal’s books.

So, find yourself a partner and register here.  The entry fee is only $20 for adult players and $10 for teenagers, aged 13-19.

If you want to donate, but don’t want to play ping pong, you can do that too by going here and clicking the “donate to DECA button.”

The world needs more Sal Sabila’s. Let’s help get her on her way, Danforth East!

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