Winnipeg high school student receives national humanitarian award for disability inclusion work

A Winnipeg student who has worked tirelessly towards the inclusion of students with special needs at his high school and dreams of returning as a gym teacher has received a national humanitarian award.

The Terry Fox Humanitarian Award is given to young Canadians who have overcome adversity in their lives to make positive impacts in their communities. The scholarship is awarded to 15 people across Canada and is valued at a maximum of $28,000 over four years.

Orion Remoquillo, a Grade 12 student at Winnipeg’s Garden City Collegiate, is the only Manitoban to win the award this year.

“I was just jumping up and down celebrating with my mom, telling everybody I know, calling everybody I know,” Remoquillo told CBC News.

“To be mentioned in the same sentence [as] Terry Fox, to carry his morals and principles and just what he represents, I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Fox, who was born in Winnipeg and lost his right leg to cancer in 1977, set out in 1980 to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. The award program is meant to encourage young humanitarians who resemble Fox’s courage and compassion.

Diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at the age of five, Remoquillo says the condition created significant barriers throughout his life and he struggled to fit in socially at school.

He has been able to manage his Tourette’s through medication and therapy, he said, but wanted to make sure other kids like him weren’t left behind.

“In my high school, I noticed some peers with special needs were isolated from the student body. Reflecting on my own experiences of feeling different, I decided to do something about this,” he said.

Remoquillo thrived in high school, working towards the inclusion of special needs students. He volunteered for over 600 hours at Garden City Collegiate and coached at Special Olympics events with the school.

‘A very unique award’

He plans to study physical health and education at the University of Winnipeg, returning to his high school as a gym teacher.

“That’s just a dream for me.”

Paulina Chow-White, executive director of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award program, said the scholarship is unlike most.

“It’s very different from any other award, because we take most seriously … what people do with the obstacles they face in life,” she told CBC News.

Many of the recipients get emotional when she tells them they’ve won the scholarship, she said, since many may not have been recognized in that way before.

This year, the program received over 800 applications for the scholarship, which has been awarded to young humanitarians across the country since 1982.

Recipients move on to continue their significant work, she said, adding that there are currently three Terry Fox scholars on the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.

“They’re really impacting lives in a big way. They’re changing curriculums, they’re starting non-profits. They’re doing all sorts of things like that, so it’s a very unique award.”

A teen boy is pictured holding an award, standing next to his mom, as both smile to the camera.
Orion said his mom, Marriane, is his biggest fan and played a huge role in his achievements. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Donations help them support the next generations of humanitarians and they’re hoping to increase the scholarship amount to keep up with rising costs of post-secondary studies, she said.

Remoquillo is set to graduate from high school next June and said he’s happy to know that much of his post-secondary education will be paid for.

He said much of his success is thanks to his mom, Marriane Remoquillo, who he called his biggest fan and best friend.

“I really want to thank my mom for helping me get to where I’m at. She always supported me.”

Forming relationships with each of the kids he works with has been a fulfilling experience, said Remoquillo.

“I volunteered to make changes in their lives, but I never knew how much they would help change mine,” he said.

“This whole journey of volunteering really helped make me a better person, and the best version of myself.”