Belleville, ON, Jan. 5, 2024 – Celebrating excellence, determination and the resilience of the human spirit, Loyalist College has partnered with Women Leaders of Tomorrow (WLOT) to support the extraordinary journey of nationally recognized Afghan athlete, Roya Shafai, in her pursuit of gender equality, post-secondary education and athletic success. Joining the Loyalist community as a student in the Fitness and Health Promotion program, Shafai is the first WLOT participant to attend college in Ontario and the 16th to arrive in Canada.
In 2021, the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan marked a turning point for women like Shafai, who faced severe restrictions on their access to education and sports participation. When women’s exercise was forbidden, Shafai could not access the gyms where she had once trained, and her pursuit of national-level achievements in Judo abruptly halted. “You can ban education and fitness for women, but you cannot take my dream,” says Shafai.
In her quest for the right to participate in sports, Shafai formed a close connection with Friba Rezayee, Founder of WLOT. Rezayee, an accomplished Judo Olympian, etched her name in history by becoming one of the first Afghan women to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Through education, mentorship, and advocacy, she launched WLOT in 2021 to create a brighter future for women and girls worldwide. One of the programs Rezayee initiated through WLOT is Girls of Afghanistan Lead (GOAL). It supports young Afghan women like Shafai to pursue their academic and athletic dreams, positioning them to become leaders in sport. To prepare for college in Canada, Shafai improved her English and pronunciation with the help of her tutors and academic mentors, Denica Mulder and Renia Tyminski. Tyminski, a local cross-cultural educator from Picton, Ontario, recommended Shafai to Loyalist College on behalf of WLOT.
Impressed by Shafai’s determination and academic record, Loyalist offered her a full academic scholarship. The college also assisted her with travel arrangements and residence accommodations, and the community eagerly helped her get comfortable in her new environment.
“Roya Shafai’s commitment to education and her pursuit of gender equality and athletic excellence is truly inspiring,” says Loyalist College President and CEO Mark Kirkpatrick. “At Loyalist, we know our international students’ life experiences and perspectives enrich the vibrancy of our campus and surrounding communities. To create a foundation for their success, we offer comprehensive support to empower every Loyalist student to overcome barriers and achieve their fullest potential. Roya’s journey is an incredible example of what is possible when students have a safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next!”
Now safely settled in Belleville and pursuing her Loyalist diploma, Shafai is on her way to realizing her dream of becoming a trainer and coach for female athletes. “In Canada, gender equality opens doors to endless possibilities. Here, our initiative creates opportunities, and no one can restrict my potential based on gender,” says Shafai.
About Loyalist College
Loyalist College is built upon the lands governed by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement. We affirm and thank the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg and Huron-Wendat nations for their continued caretaking of the land. At Loyalist, we empower our students with wraparound support services and hands-on training to succeed on any path they choose. Our academic programs are responsive and innovative, designed to solve pressing social and economic challenges and meet the evolving needs of our regional industry and community partners. Our graduates enter the workforce equipped with the knowledge they need to be better global citizens, and with future-focused skills to lead change in their fields. With a presence in Belleville, Bancroft, Port Hope, Tyendinaga and Toronto, we believe our institutional responsibility extends beyond the classroom to seeing the big picture for the communities we serve. Our expertise in applied research and deep connections to local industry support economic development, to the benefit of businesses, entrepreneurs, changemakers and innovators. Our commitment to decolonization, and the pursuit of a more inclusive, equitable world, means we hold ourselves accountable to the diverse perspectives, cultures and experiences that shape our communities.
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Director of Marketing and Communications