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Student organization promotes bullying awareness and helps fund education in Kenya

Sarah Doan | Fulcrum Contributor

Photo by Justin Labelle

A GROWING NUMBER of people and groups have been taking action to help put an end to bullying through traditional campaigns—but some are taking a more creative route.

On March 9 and 10, the University of Ottawa’s student-run organization Unity for Action performed “Wake Up,” a play put on not only to raise awareness about bullying but also to raise money for the Migosi Family Hope Society, a charity that provides free education for children in Kisumu, Kenya.

“We take into consideration where [the funds] are going,” said director and organizer Andrea Polgar. “We pick charities that will send funds to the cause more, and not administration.”

Not only did Unity for Action very carefully choose the charity to sponsor, but the play was also picked specifically for its “school feel,” according to Polgar.

Unity for Action is a not-for-profit organization that strives to create positive change in society. The club was founded by health sciences graduate Tarun Rahman, who started by raising money to help with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Since then, Unity for Action has hosted a number of events to raise funds for various causes.

“We’ve done ballroom dancing classes and a sugar and spice sale,” Polgar explains. “Our funding comes from these events, but we also get it from the SFUO [Student Federation of the University of Ottawa].”

But funding wasn’t the only thing on members’ minds. Unity for Action normally begins planning its musicals at the beginning of the school year, holds auditions in December, and finalizes the cast in January. This year, however, was different. The club found itself having to prepare everything in only two months.

Organizers weren’t the only ones feeling the pressure; having to be in character and to project the nature of the situation to an audience was a real challenge for actors.

“You can’t just wing it,” said Emily Cordes, a performer and executive member of Unity for Action. “You need to step back and realize this is about bullying.”

Cordes joined the club just last year, but because there weren’t many members who cast themselves during this year’s “Wake Up” auditions, she decided to cast herself as the main antagonist and dancer.

“It’s kind of hard—I’ve been a bystander and a victim, so to portray myself as the bully is hard because it goes against my values,” she said.

Others tend to find their characters more relatable.

“I always try to make jokes out of it,” said Matika Lauzon, who starred as the victim of the play. “I’ve always dealt with bullying with humour.”

Getting into character wasn’t the performers’ only concern. The production also required a great deal of dedication and flexibility.

“There was a lot more to it than expected,” said Cordes. “With the time commitment—always working, having unscheduled meetings—it’s kind of hard to be cast and executive. Everyone needs something.”

After all the hard work and stressful situations, Unity for Action’s production of “Wake Up” was a big success, raising awareness of bullying and bringing in about $5,000 for the Migosi Family Hope Society.


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