Upon arriving to the country in 1984, the first words Vicken and Paula Koundakjian heard were “Welcome to Canada”.
It had taken generations, but they were home at last.
Their grandparents and great-grand parents survived persecution and genocide, and were refugees in France, England, Syria, and Lebanon.
Throughout their experiences, the Koundakjians have held fast to their belief that education is the key to citizenship and achievement. The Welcome to Canada Bursary is a testament to this belief, established with the goal of freeing student refugees from financial stress and providing them with the peace of mind they need to focus on academic success.
Vicken Koundakjian’s family members fled Armenia during the 1915 genocide, coming first to Syria and later to Lebanon, where Vicken, a Carleton University graduate (BAHons/04), grew up. Paula Fedeski-Koundakjian’s great-great-grandfather fled Poland for the U.K.
“We think it’s really important that we all remember that, somewhere in our families, all of us have a refugee,” says Paula. “Refugees are not a new thing. They’re a very ancient thing.”
The couple has become even more aware of refugee issues through their work around the world. After meeting at translation school in Brussels, they moved to Canada, where Paula had spent her early childhood and university years. Vicken began a career with the Canadian diplomatic corps that eventually took them to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, and Venezuela.
They realized many programs for refugees help young children or their parents adapt to their new country, but teenagers often fall between the cracks. In many cases, young adults were enrolled in post-secondary education in their former countries, but can’t afford tuition in their new home.
“We wanted to at least make an attempt at giving some of those kids a better chance of getting into a university program,” Paula explains. That’s how the idea of the Welcome to Canada bursary was born.
The purpose of the Welcome to Canada Bursary is to provide financial support through bursaries for students who were former refugees and/or students who currently have refugee status who are attending Carleton University. Both undergraduate and graduate students will be eligible. Preference will be given to students coming from the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa. The intent of this bursary is to provide support for tuition, books, tutoring and other related academic costs for such students.
The bursary will be administered by both the Undergraduate Awards and Financial Aid Office and the office of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs.
The Koundakjians’ plan is to donate to the bursary throughout their lives, then leave a portion of their estate to it after they are gone. They hope other donors—perhaps inspired by news of ongoing refugee crises throughout the world—will give as well.
Your gift today gives student refugees a chance to pursue post-secondary education and strive for academic excellence.
When our students have an opportunity to concentrate on their studies without worrying about financial strain, we all have a chance to see our new Canadians shine.
Lorraine and Andrejs Berzins
Delighted to donate to this wonderfully constructive cause in honor of Paula and Vicken who epitomize what it means to be good neighbors to one another. Hoping that every recipient of this scholarship support learns of their story and feels inspired and empowered to pay it forward.
Wonderful idea, V&P! This donation is support from both David & Julie in Calgary!