Who are we

The Awakening Project

The Awakening Project, an initiative of the Community Counts Foundation, began as a summer project in June 2020, organized by university students.

Our Team

Dania Ahmed

Dania Ahmed is majoring in Ethics, Society and Law with a double minor in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies. Her studies of interest include faith-based environmentalism as this is a project she is going to be working on in the Fall at the University of Toronto, as well as sociologically pertinent issues such as applying classical sociology theories to contemporary society. Currently, she is working as a Peer Mentor for first-year students at her University and is a full-time second-year undergraduate student. In the Awakening Project, Dania wants to highlight the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding.

Vincent Pham

Vincent Pham is currently a University of Toronto Humanities student double majoring in Ethics, Society and Law program and Philosophy. He also intends to pursue a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is interested in philosophy and all-things Catholic and Catholic liturgy. In recent years, Vincent has also grown awareness of legal and social justice issues in Canadian society. Vincent also enjoys writing. Several of his pieces have been published in The Catholic Register and YMagazine, an online publication by the Vietnamese Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the Awakening Project, Vincent wants to look deeper into the topic of refugees and the prophetic voice of Venerable Cardinal Francis-Xavier Thuận Văn Nguyễn.

Tijana Bagaric

Tijana Bagaric is an International Development graduate and is ‘coordinator’ of the Awakening Project. Her studies of interest include climate change policy, diaspora studies, as well as NGO structures and policy change. Currently, she is exploring her options in career paths, and has previously published an undergraduate research journal, conducted research in patterns of poverty in Guelph, Ontario, and contributed to non-profit work. As the Project Coordinator of the Awakening Project, Tijana wants to further research and content in the field of social justice to encourage positive change.

Michelle Ally

Michelle Ally is a current doctoral student at the Ontario Institute for the Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. She has earned an MEd in Social Justice Education and an undergraduate degree in postcolonial studies in the Caribbean and Latin America, both from the University of Toronto. Her research lies in the intersection of decolonization, social justice and spirituality. She is an immigrant woman of colour born in Abya Yala, with ancestral roots in Asia, working and living on Turtle Island as a settler. Michelle is a Peace Educator, having previously taught Montessori and directed art-based programs in West end Toronto. Her passion for justice and interfaith dialogue began as a lived experience and has manifested in her work and projects. She has been an enthusiastic member of the Awakening Project since November 2020.

Valuscha Pereira

Valuscha Pereira is entering her first year of undergraduate studies in Nanotechnology Engineering. Her studies of interest include applications of nanotechnology in fields such as medicine and healthcare, as well as how nanotechnology can be used to reduce the ecological footprint of humans in the future. Currently, she is a tutor for elementary school students, and has previously been involved in STEM-based clubs and camps, and as a Youth Leader at her parish’s Children’s Liturgy Program. In the Awakening Project, Valuscha wants to highlight the influential workings of activists and leaders who are making a difference in the world.

Iain Ross

Iain Ross has an undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Cambridge and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Theological Studies from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. His studies of interest include urban/rural relationships; place, environment and identity; international development; biblical theology and education. Currently, he is working as an ESL teacher in Toronto and has previously worked in lay pastoral youth ministry in South America. In the Awakening Project, Iain wants to explore the interconnections between faith, justice and geography.

Jacob Stocking

Jacob Stocking is currently completing his grade 12 year at Michael Power/St. Joseph High School in Etobicoke. He is a reporter with the Youth Speak News (YSN) program, and his columns reach over 30,000 people every month. They are published digitally on The Catholic Register’s website. Jacob has founded several youth activism initiatives – on universal quality education, access to safe water and environmental protection. He was recognized with an award in 2019 for his leadership in cross-country, snowboarding and track & field. Jacob hopes to become an investigative journalist after completing university – with a plan to travel overseas to report on climate-related injustices. On the weekends, Jacob can be found in the kitchen attempting to develop his strong but misguided passion for cooking.

Marco Hidalgo-Romero

Marco Hidalgo-Romero is a Computer Science student with a focus on developing mobile apps. His studies of interest include Android app development, web development, data structures
and algorithms, and technological research, as well as worldwide news. Currently, he is in third year in his college program and is looking for new experiences in his career. He has had some experience working in Church services, programs, and charities. In the Awakening Project,
Marco wants to highlight both the Content Creator and Researcher roles. He likes to support people, especially participating in programs for people in need.


Meaghan is a recent graduate with a degree in international development and conflict resolution studies. She is passionate about social justice and an active citizen in her home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Meaghan has completed participatory research in India as part of her degree. Her research is focused on street vendors and their right to livelihood and she is currently consolidating her data into an article for publication. Meaghan will be pursuing graduate studies in the areas of public policy and international affairs. As part of The Awakening Project, she hopes to use her research skills to look at the effects of current public policy on vulnerable communities in Canada, such as those experiencing homelessness.

Jessica Lopez

Jessica Lopez is in Life Sciences with a focus on Human Biology/ Immunology. Her studies of interest include research on cell-mediated immunity through the genetic altering of cells, as well as how different and sometimes contradicting parts of society such as science and religion can work hand in hand to find solutions to social justice issues in Canada. She is currently pursuing a career path in medicine, specifically pediatrics. She has volunteered at Sick Kids hospital and has spent time in Quebec learning French. In the Awakening Project, Jessica wants to highlight and spread awareness of racial minorities in Canada and how during these times, for some their situation has become a little bit worse. She hopes to discover new ways in which society can work together to improve the living situations and societal views of racial minorities.

I encountered the Awakening Project while completing the Interfaith Leadership Program at the Multifaith Centre at University of Toronto. As a teacher of over ten years and a childcare worker for over twenty, I have experience in education as well as in social justice work and advocacy. Having a diverse background with faith and spirituality has been a benefit for me in leading discussions with many perspectives when discussing interfaith issues and social justice.

I have led discussions on Zoom which deal with issues of mining extraction and indigenous women’s resistance in Latin America, climate chaos, and indigenous spiritual philosophy and knowledge in Canada, and Palestine as a site of global concern. As these conversations build and draw on the diverse range of previous and current research that I have undertaken in my program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, it has been of great benefit to share this knowledge with others. Many have stated their lack of knowledge or awareness of such topics and have expressed their gratitude to understand and build on their current knowledge base. This sharing, I believe, works as a promotion of greater understanding and as a sharing platform for individuals, much like the ecosystems of nature, to engage and disperse beneficial information and awareness.

We are all connected in the web of life on the planet earth and it benefits us all to work towards greater good by understanding what is happening on a greater scale in our world.

As students spend a great deal of time incorporating information and learning about the world, the on-line discussion meetings of the Awakening Project serve not only as an information hub, but as a space to safely discover new issues, people and places. We live in a world with wonderful diversity and this is an exercise in tolerance, patience, and expansion. In the Montessori method of my teacher training, the cosmic web of life is a primary focus for peace education and living in wonder with our universe. Our students and individuals interested in the Awakening Project are those who are open to building bridges between communities and faith groups – in a dialogue promoting peace, awareness, and love for our planet and each other.

And this, in essence, is a true act of advocacy and tolerance.

Journey of the Awakening Project — by Michelle Ally, Educator

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