Kawaja draws attention to accessibility and inclusivity

    OTTAWA, ONTARIO: A former Port Hawkesbury resident might become a big winner in the Norwegian Cruise Line 2019 “Giving Joy Contest,” but if her participation can get people talking about the treatment of the disabled, she’ll be left all smiles.

    “If in all of this, we talk about what it means to have an accessible community, and an inclusive community, I feel like I’ve already won,” said Nancy Kawaja, a special education teacher in the Special Education and Student Services department at the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She has a special connection to the local area.

    Kawaja graduated from SAERC in 1992, then earned two degrees from StFX University, including her Bachelor of Education. After that, she did a bit of globetrotting that saw her visit Western Canada and Nepal, with some time spent at the Coady Institute at StFX for a youth intern program.

    She then headed to Ontario. That was 20 years ago, but her early life in Port Hawkesbury and area helped her become the person she is.

    “I’m very proud of where I’m from,” she said. “Caring for my community and recognizing the responsibility to care for others is something I brought from home and my parents.”

    Right now, Kawaja is in the running for the “Giving Joy Contest.” The contest will give a seven-day cruise for two to 15 teachers in the U.S. and Canada.

    The top 15 nominees will receive not only the free cruise, but an exclusive invitation to an award ceremony on May 3 in Seattle (including airfare and accommodations) and the chance to win the grand prize of $15,000 for their school.

    Winning the contest would be a bit of good luck to offset the bad luck Kawaja recently had. Six months ago, she awoke from neurosurgery without any feeling below her left knee.

    “My nerves were crushed, essentially,” she said. “The hope is that the nerves will regenerate overtime.

    “My philosophy is you can learn slowly or you can learn fast, but the reality is the same either way. You have to get with the program, learn to adapt, and find any lessons in it you can. I choose not to be sad but find whatever positives I could.

    “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I’ve found more joy than loss in all of it. There’s a lot of positive to come out of looking at life a second way.”

    Now in a wheelchair, Kawaja said she has a whole new understanding of how important accessibility and inclusiveness is; especially when having to navigate a wheelchair.

    As a marathon runner, cyclist and tri-athlete, Kawaja said she’s hoping for the condition to reverse itself but if not, “you have a tear session and then, suck it up buttercup. You have to move on.”

    “If I get full mobility back, it’ll be a blessing. If I don’t, I’ve already learned to live without it. I’ll be okay either way. I don’t think people from the town where we grew up sit around wallowing about the bad.”

    To vote for Kawaja, pop on-line and support her by following the weblink: https://nclgivingjoy.com/voteme/30373/632457256?ep1=fb&fbclid=IwAR2botgYtuPueI26M-E4zfB7-zUtXx-lrOUEY5mqxEpdKtsntS0bOIESJdw.