Creating Calm and Comfort at School
Q&A’s with Shirley Joubert
Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?Originally, I’m from Hamilton, Ontario, but I’ve lived just about everywhere. When I was about a year old, my parents moved to Cape Town, South Africa. We moved around every year or two, and then just before my 11th birthday we moved back to Ontario and stayed with my grandparents in Niagara Falls until we were able to get a place of our own. Currently, my family and I live in Moncton, New Brunswick. It’s the first place I’ve ever felt comfortable enough to call home, and it’s also the first place we’ve ever properly settled down in.
What community/communities are you a part of? How does that influence your perspectives on life?
I’m a two-time immigrant, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I have anxiety and depression. These are all factors that tend to influence my day-to-day life, from school, to social interactions, to my home life. At least once a day I get a bizarre, invasive question that I feel forced to answer, and they’re usually built on misconceptions, unintentional bigotry, or just plain stupidity. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve been asked if I grew up without knowing what water is or if a man could ever turn me straight. All in all, these are pretty formative and important traits in my everyday life.
What are you passionate about? Where did that passion come from? What are your hobbies?
I have far too many things to be passionate about in life, if I’m honest. I get decision paralysis sometimes as a result. But I’d say most of my passions and my hobbies tend to be art related. Especially if it’s an artform that I can use to tell a story. I’m a huge fan of writing, and I’m currently working on a new novel as well as a few film scripts. Storytelling has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and it’s come in handy in my project in more ways than I can count.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
It was a bit of a gradual revelation. I was struggling in my freshman year, and it was an incredibly difficult time for me. I was suicidal, I hated life, and things weren’t getting better for me. I really needed help, and I kept trying to reach out, but the downside to living in New Brunswick is that the province is notoriously horrible for its social services. As of this year the wait times for an appointment at a therapist’s office is 3 years. It was impossible for me and my peers to get help, and statistics were showing that over a third of the students in the school have depression and anxiety. It didn’t help that, despite all the triggering topics and events that can pop up throughout the day, students weren’t allowed to leave class to calm down from a panic attack. What the school needed was a place for struggling students that could be open for the entire school day. We needed a space that gave kids access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, like therapeutic activities and a safe environment to deal with their struggles.
What was your motivation behind this project?
There were a lot of motivators. On the one hand, I was tired of trying to get help and never reaching anyone, so I figured if no one else could help fix the issue it might as well be me. On the other hand, I have a habit of getting ideas and running away with them before stopping to think of the negatives, which typically gets me in trouble, but in this case it got me right where I needed to be. The only thing that made me hesitant was my fear of failure, and the fear that I wouldn’t make a difference. Luckily, my parents gifted me with a stubborn streak, and I was too headstrong to give up on my plans.
How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?
Everyone has been absolutely amazing. For every person blocking my path, I had a hundred standing behind me, ready to back me up at any moment. The school has been incredibly wonderful about it. The safe space is in use practically every day, and sometimes there are lines for it because it’s been so helpful for students. We’re currently trying to open up more spaces around the school to reduce the lines, and many people have gotten involved and started doing similar projects. One of our newly elected student council members has started trying to set up a similar space as a prayer room for Muslim students, and one of our guidance counsellors is trying to set up an Indigenous safe space that follows the layout the original chill space has taken on. It’s a really exciting time, and everyone has been so supportive and welcoming, it’s really amazing.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
Definitely not as big as I wanted. I had a lot of ideas and so many things that I tried to do but wasn’t able to accomplish. But at the end of the day, I did what I could, and it’s helped students on a daily basis. People are using my ideas and building off of them. I may not have solved everything, but I’ve definitely made a pretty good jumping off point for future projects.
How has the project impacted your daily life?
It always gives me a bit of a confidence boost to see how well the room is doing everyday. The project has had a much bigger impact on my life than I thought it would. It helped me get into my dream university, gain scholarships and bursaries, and even polish my resume. It’s also made me the person people come to when they’re experiencing social and community issues, so I’m always involved in something new. It’s truly an amazing experience.
Were there bumps along the road or things you might do differently in the future?
There were some intense low points, that’s for certain. Everything was a fight. There were so many rules that would come up anytime I tried to do something, and they were always rules that were just hidden enough that there’s no way I could’ve known beforehand. Diplomacy and legalities are not a strong suit of mine, and it zapped a lot of my energy. Everytime I made progress, someone would be there to push me back down. But all in all, the only regret I have is that I didn’t take enough time for myself during those low points. It really destroyed me, because whenever I hit a bump in the road, my instinct was to fight, so I was constantly working and I never took breaks. But at least I can learn from my mistakes, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I’m quite happy with the way things turned out.
What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
Go for it! Shoot for the stars! Everything is possible if you believe it, and if you believe that you have an idea that could make the community a better place, then by all means do it. We need more projects like yours, and your community will appreciate it for ages to come. It’s an experience you won’t forget, and it’s truly an amazing adventure. Give it a shot, you might be surprised where it takes you!