Team dynamics

Chapman Story Awards

The Chapman Story Award is an annual story competition open to current and recent participants of the Trek and Reading Week programs. The award recognizes students who have demonstrated meaningful learning and contribution to our local community.

Students who have taken part in the Trek or Reading Week programs for the past year are eligible for prizes of up to $500. Funding is generously provided by an endowment from Kay and Lloyd Chapman.

Apply for the 2017 cycle!

2017 Winners

First Place

Rachel Blundon, 3rd year - Food, Nutrution, & Health - YWCA Crabtree Corner (Trek)

Upon entering into the UBC Trek program in September, I had no idea as to what my journey would be like, and no expectations for it. I came in with an open mind, willing and ready to do good work beyond the bounds of the UBC “bubble”. I thought that I (prepare yourself for some indiscriminate ego boosting) could go out into the community and with my skills, knowledge, and experience contribute in a meaningful way, somehow, somewhere. And oh, how quickly did this mentality dissipate upon starting my placement.

I learned from my placement at CTC humility and grace—virtues that cannot be learned from a journal article or book and rarely taught in academia, but may only, truly, be conceived with sustained practice. Although nervous walking into my placement, I felt confident in my knowledge base on such discipline-specific concepts as food (in)security, food justice, and food sovereignty. You got this, I thought to myself.

Only, I didn’t really.

These academic concepts painted a picture of broad strokes over the lives of complicated individuals. The first time I had to turn a single mother away from financial aid for the Presents of Peace program put on at Christmas because she was in the ballpark of $60 per paycheck over the minimum to support herself and her two children, was heart-wrenching. Watching her shed a few tears over the fact that she wouldn’t be able to put on a good Christmas morning filled with a few presents for her children, or a decent Christmas dinner, was heart wrenching. And then, she surprised me, and called me out on my position in this organization, A volunteer, from UBC, a student, who are you to tell me I don’t qualify? What do you know. I want to speak to someone who actually works here, get me the head of the program. And so I did, half hoping I was wrong in my analysis, so that she could get her aid, half hoping my supervisor would confirm that my conclusion was in the right. But as I waited outside the office, listening to my supervisor tell this woman what I had also told her, it dawned on me, that she wasn’t wrong. Who was I, what gave me the right?

And there I go, down the rabbit-hole of privilege.

I had known before my placement that I was a fairly privileged person, but I didn’t see it, I wasn’t confronted with it. I was already privileged to got to an amazing post-secondary university, and then this privilege lead me to the privilege experienced in my placement: I automatically stepped into a position of power to exclude and include certain individuals from financial resources. There was no earning this position, I merely showed up and impacted the lives of CTC clients. This interaction, the first of its kind but certainly not the last in my placement, taught me humility and grace. To respect not only my place in the world, but that of others, and to see that much of what has lead me to where I am, or to where that single mother is, is largely pre-determined and out of our control. This understanding, and these virtues, will be carried forward for the rest of my life.

Second Place

Rachel Holmes, 5th year - Arts - Dr. Peter Center (Trek)

Searching through my memory for highlights, I realize that my experience at the Dr. Peter Center wasn’t about that at all. It wasn’t about my high point, my success. I didn’t do this to feel alive, or excited. For those I supported, being a resident at the Dr. Peter Center means that you have received a serious diagnosis and have struggled with treatment. They take life as it comes, one day at a time. Expecting volunteering there to be about some illuminating gratification doesn’t parallel with the reality that these people are living with every day. My involvement there was for them, not me; it wasn’t flashy, but it was stable. It was to offer support, in whatever medium it needed to be for that person. What I’m taking away, therefore, is more than a high point where I felt like I really made a tangible impact. I’ve learned that life so often is about getting through the day, finding routine, and finding the calm in it all. I’ve discovered that satisfaction can come quietly and unassumingly. Volunteering at the Dr. Peter Center demonstrated that no matter your background, you must be humble in coexisting with others. That contentment can be found in conversation and shared community.

More than that, coming in every Monday has allowed me to find myself knowing people. It’s humanizing. I think that might be the most invaluable part of Trek: building those relationships and having the understanding that there is at least one more person out there that you know, really know. It was apparent when I first came in that ‘D’ had grown tired of the revolving door of volunteers and staff. As I prompted conversation, he used the automatic script that he had so efficiently honed over the years of small talk. Lucky for me, it turns out D loves Scrabble. I’m talking, carved-his-name-into-the-tiny-wooden-holder loves Scrabble. The first time we played we were mostly silent, but every once in awhile he would let out a little bit more about himself. All the stories, the beliefs, the advice - what you hope to hear from a person - all of it came, just with time. Although I came close a couple times, I never beat him in a game.

Then there were some moments that were scary, too. As we played one night, I noticed his eyes squinting shut. “I’m waiting for the pain to pass,” he whispered. Throughout decades of health problems, D had grown accustomed to experiencing pain. Over the past months however, I had learned that he has a history of heart attacks and keeps nitroglycerine spray close as a result. Asking him where the pain was coming from, he was able to point out the location in his chest. When the nurse took his vitals, his pressure was 220/130 and beating at 200 bpm. As soon as the spray was administered, his heart rate and blood pressure began to return to normal levels. This event brought me closer to understanding the gravity of the pain he experiences on a daily basis: D had tried to wait out a heart-attack. Moments like these make me grateful simply for having gotten to know him. .

My takeaway message about Trek is to do it authentically. In the sobering reality that others face is somewhere you may find meaning. Come into it prepared to learn about them and the lessons that they bear, whether they fit your pre-existing mental frameworks or not. You may come out the other side knowing not just more about them, but yourself.

Third Place

Tisha Dasgupta, 3rd year - Science - YWCA Crabtree Corner (Trek)

As a student going into my third year in the faculty of Science, I needed to boost up my resume. Add something shiny to it, that would make me stand out in the rat race that is medical school. A time commitment of a few hours a week and some assignments, Trek would be easily completed and would barely even affect my life. Or so I thought. What I didn’t anticipate at that time was the profound change that the program would have on me, how I see the world and my treatment of others.

Being an international student, I’ve never had any reason to visit the Downtown Eastside. My local friends had told me that it was a ‘sketchy’ neighborhood and my mind had painted up a vivid picture of drug dealers and the homeless huddled on the sidewalks. I’d been to the flashy Gastown many times of course, but only so far as Abbott Street. Beyond that, was an unknown and dangerous abyss to me. So, when I was assigned to my placement at YWCA Crabtree Corner, at the heart of the DTES, you can imagine my trepidation. But, I like to think of myself as a daring person, not afraid to try new things. So, one sunny Saturday morning in October, as I made my way downtown on a bus, my thoughts were a blur of equal parts apprehension and excitement.

As I got to Crabtree Corner and met with the program coordinators, I was told that the Saturday Family program was for single mothers and children, and gave them an opportunity to de-stress and chat with other mothers like themselves. According to my preconceived notions, patrons of community centers like Crabtree had to be destitute and desperate. So, an hour later, when some of the families began to pour in, I was quite taken by surprise. They were all extremely well dressed, polite and what stood out to me most of all is that they all seemed happy. Truly, genuinely happy with a huge smile gracing every one of their faces. Over the next few months, I got to know each one of them a little better. I began to be loved amongst the children and was entrusted by the moms with their family pasts. They were people from so many different parts of the world, speaking so many different languages and practicing many different cultures. But they were all united in the fact that wanted to be at Crabtree Corner on a Saturday morning getting a bite to eat with their friends. And I realized that is something so quintessentially normal.

Exposure is something each and every one of us should get, in whichever form that may be. Simply by being at my placement I learnt so much more about the community, about the social issues they face, and the good and bad about DTES. I’m a firm believer that one cannot learn such things in a classroom, you must be immersed in the community. And that is why I believe programs such as Trek are vital. For us students today, when it is so easy to hide behind our iPhones, programs like this put us out there and makes us think beyond the classroom lecture, to delve deeper. From the past two terms with Trek, the common phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ has taken a whole new meaning for me.  I have learnt to actually listen, beyond the first impressions and the white noise. And I will carry that with me for the rest of my life.

2016 winners

First Place

Margaret Miland, 3rd year, UBC Learning Exchange (Trek)

The moment when marker and paper met as I created my first graphic recording during the UBC Learning Exchange Open House was when all of my passions converged. It was a point of extreme clarity in my TREK experience that spilled over into my personal life, changing my perspective on who I am as a person. I transferred to UBC hoping to reignite my sense of creativity that had slowly been exhausted. Knowing that the best way to do this was to surround myself with endless possibilities, I not only decided to say “yes,” but to also question how my assets could benefit my new community. Little did I know that I would be helped with my personal journey just as much as my presence in my TREK placement ended up impacting the lives of the patrons who spend time at the Learning Exchange.

I will never forget what Student Learning Coordinator, Katie Forman, told me on my tour of the Learning Exchange: This was a place where the staff’s presence is merely to facilitate the engagement of every person who walks through the door and recognize the assets they bring to this community. For most people who visit the Downtown Eastside it is seen as “a rough neighborhood in Vancouver” and a place to avoid. Instead of a red flag that would call for deviation, I was intrigued and began to wonder why there was such an extreme difference in atmosphere among Vancouver neighborhoods. What I found was a culturally rich, unique, and close-knit community. Although my initial work at the Learning Exchange was to create new lesson plans for learners, I found most of my time being spent soaking up life stories and opinions of the residents of the Downtown Eastside. As time went on, I discovered firsthand what it was like to experience a true learning exchange.

On the day of the open house, I was asked to try my hand at graphically recording a session on apps that can help ESL learners. Seeing the listeners make connections based on the presentation and my drawings, I was encouraged to record other events throughout the day. I discovered that my skills as a connector, listener, artist, and encourager were allowing the patrons to engage more freely. My graphic recordings were helpful for those who did not speak fluently because they included key words, and the pictures proved to be universally understood. By the end of the day I had been approached by so many people asking about this newfound skill and if I could teach them. I now have the opportunity to do so through the Learning Exchange’s conference this May.

As my time as a TREK student volunteer was coming to a close, there was a mutual effort to find ways for me to remain connected to the Learning Exchange. Finding the space as much of a centre for the patrons as it was for me to feel at home with myself, I ended up accepting a summer work learn position at the Learning Exchange as a drop-in assistant. Words cannot describe how it feels as a new member to Vancouver to be so readily accepted by such a unique community as the Learning Exchange.

I am so proud to have participated in the TREK program and to have learned so much about myself through the whole process. My experience at UBC has a more guided path and my goal of understanding the diversity present in Vancouver that is not always present on campus was met one-hundred times over. 

Second Place

Flora Xiao Meng Zhu, 4th year, Dr. Peter Centre for HIV and AIDS (Trek)

“Thank you for the bird.”

I looked up from behind the white counter from where I stood; it took me a second to realize he was talking about the roast chicken leg we served for lunch. “You’re welcome,” I said briefly as I turned around, grabbed two 150mL containers of 2% milk and replaced the ones that the attendees took for lunch. Lined with rows of concentrated juice, milk and dessert, the countertop was more crowded than Metrotown on Boxing Day.  And despite our best efforts to maintain a somewhat orderly fashion along the dessert and drinks line, between the bustling attendees and our four hands, we were not successful.

“Can I have a chai tea?”

“Can I have an orange juice?”

“We are out of coffee!”

“Of course,” I said as I pried a bag of chai tea out of its box, pressed the juice dispenser to shoot out orange liquid into a plastic cup and took hold of the now empty 42-cup coffee dispensing urn. “Just one minute, let me just change this” and heaved over a 10lb urn of freshly brewed coffee to the attendees.

Every Sunday for the past five months, I volunteered at the Dr. Peter’s Centre for HIV/AIDS and helped them prepare and serve food to the participants that come by. As a community, the attendees, the volunteers and the workers are the ones who drive me to be excited about this cause. They are the ones that give this program hope and make me feel alive.

No matter rain or shine, I look forward to helping out at the Centre. Although not intellectually stimulating, handing out desserts, lining up drinks and emptying out coffee grinds have become emotionally and spiritually uplifting tasks for me. Personally, there is no one moment that makes me feel more involved with the Centre because every moment that I am there, I feel like I am contributing to this intricate web of social balance.

There are many misconceptions regarding homelessness, drug abuse and people suffering from HIV/AIDS.  There is a belief that the ugliness of these under-privileged individuals’ issues are self-brought and contagious; a fear that the mistakes that these people made will rub off against us if we spend too much time with them. A fear that their bad habits and their lives’ adversities will plague us with the infection of misfortune, and a fear that their unpleasantness will destroy our pleasantness in the perfect life that we have sculpted for ourselves. When unfortunately, there is blackout towards the hidden systemic issues within our society. A blanket of secrecy and chasm of issues feed and mask this epidemic and we only graze the surface of it by being afraid.

I used to think I was a big hypocrite. After I finished my shift, on my way to the bus stop, I would see several homeless men asking for change, and more often than not, I would pass them without giving them a second glance. But as my time with the Centre progressed, my attitude towards these men evolved. And now as I pass them on the street, I see them as colourful human beings, full of stories and experiences, and hope to sit down and talk with them one day.

When people think about making the world a better place, often times they don’t think of the small changes they can make in their community. Philanthropic involvement does not necessarily mean something big, sometimes it starts with a small shift in mindset and perspective. Sometimes it is simply seeing a chicken as a bird. 

Diane Keyes, 1st year, YWCA Crabtree Corner (Trek)

I still remember the first time East Hastings and I met. It was a classic Vancouver afternoon where you couldn’t make out one cloud from the next – the entire sky was a solid mass of white. I can’t recall where we were going or where we were coming from, but what I do remember were the streets. I was sitting in the car with my mother driving down East Hastings. It was fall and I was probably about nine years old. ‘Roll up your window,’ my mother told me as she locked the doors, ‘and look outside.’ I turned my head to the right. There were throngs of people milling about; several were crossing the street seemingly ignorant of the moving cars and buses, others sat slumped against the walls of the tall buildings, while others still waved their arms wildly in the air, talking loudly. I remember most of them wearing old oversized hooded coats coloured in beige, grey, or black. Now, whether it was just the greyness of the day or the reality I saw before me which made me see the scene so colourlessly, I do not know. What I do know, though, is the shock, fear, and confusion I felt. ‘This is the kind of life that some people live,’ my mother said to me, ‘it’s very different.’ And so East Hastings was tucked away in the back of my mind and labelled with bright neon signs exclaiming ‘danger – do not enter.’ It was with this memory in mind that I nervously sat on the bus one sunny Saturday morning in early winter headed straight to the heart of the Downtown Eastside. I was on my way to Crabtree Corner.

One of the anthropology courses I’m taking this term is An Introduction to Contemporary Social Problems and looks at the connection between capitalism (or free market society) and addiction. It explains how capitalism, because of the values that it holds of individualism, competition, and exponential growth, undermines some fundamental human psychosocial needs, which include the need for community, sense of belonging, life-purpose, and meaning. The Theory of Dislocation by Bruce K. Alexander outlines this and shows how, when people are unable to meet these needs, they develop addictions which are essentially adaptive substitutes for these needs. Coincidentally, the Vancouver Downtown Eastside stood as a case study for this theory – the neighbourhood where I would complete my TREK placement. Throughout our studies we debunking several myths which cloud the concept of addiction, including the one that people who are addicted are weak of character and moral and that addiction was their choice.

What was extremely powerful was witnessing how, each time I went down East Hastings after another week of class, something in me had shifted. There was a sense of opening and felt as though I could literally see more, and not only that, but what I saw was colourful. Things are no longer grey, black, and beige, for there is a certain colourfulness that emerges when you finally understand the reason behind why things are the way they are, and there is a beauty to this. This is what my class has given me, and what I realize education is for. Education is so that we may be able to look at world around us and no longer simply see, but understand. To reach this, however, we must go out and meet the world, which is why I believe academic education is not enough on its own, and why programs like TREK are essential.

Third Place

Sharon Shamuyarira, 1st year, 411 Seniors and Pianos on the Street (Reading Week)

As a first year Zimbabwean student studying Commerce at UBC, I have learnt the importance of making whatever you do authentically yours, by letting it echo your values. However, this is only possible when you build connections that foster openness, that is, when you feel at home.

I had been in Canada for nearly five months and a part of me still didn’t feel in “sync” with the local community. It’s hard to describe, but easy to realize when you feel out of place. Taking part in the Reading Week Project was my final attempt to try and immerse myself in the culture. I felt lost but hopeful, isolated but surrounded. Naturally, I felt no need to hold back on these emotions as I wrote a letter to my future self at the kick-off event.  I had been assigned to 411 Seniors in partnership with Pianos on the Street, our main task was to design and paint a piano in three days.  Having played in an orchestra, I have always been a fan of classical music so I was thrilled to be part of a creative music project. Nonetheless, my biggest worry was whether I would add any real artistic value to it.

I remember the first brainstorming “session”, nearly twenty minutes into it, we barely had anything concrete. A part of me wondered if the whole idea of the project wasn’t rather far-fetched.  From flags, to tiny musical instruments, to First Nation quotes, the ideas kept coming while the clock kept ticking.  

I looked at the paper with all the suggestions and it hit me then: Diversity was the key. We had all come to UBC from diverse backgrounds, the seniors had distinct narratives, and music had the unique nature of bringing us all together. So the old cliché “Unity in diversity” resonated with us. We divided the piano in to different parts, numbering them one through seven. Each of us volunteered to be responsible for a specific part. Whitney and I were responsible for the back of the piano, she suggested we have different quotes painted by all the volunteers and the seniors depicting what music meant to them. As I write this, I remember how excited I was to come up with a sketch. All my fears of my non-existent creative prowess had disappeared.  I had written in the letter with some incredible foresight, “This is what I find exciting, you do not know what lies ahead.”

Those words were further reiterated when I met one of the 411 seniors. She had recently relocated from South Africa and was thrilled to meet a friend from a neighbouring country. We talked about being back home drinking rooibos tea and giggled at funny Canadian expressions like “yeah, yeah, yeah”, talking to her made me realize we had been experiencing similar internal conflicts. Eventually she demonstrated the power of vulnerability when she shared how she had recently lost her husband.  Visiting Canada, to her was an opportunity to heal and start living again. I asked her to sign one of the postcards I had designed on the back of the piano , and  though adamant at first, after some arm twisting she eventually signed “Music powers emotions”.

Her words still resonate with me. Being part of the Reading Week Project allowed me to feel something I had not felt since I left home. I had embarked on a three-day journey with all these strangers, and together, we had committed to representing each of our stories on that piano.  Most of all, being there felt natural, it felt like home.

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