Like Big, Like Little

Little Sister, Shivani, got more from her Study Buddy than help with her homework. She got the inspiration to be herself.

Being a Study Buddy was my first experience of how fulfilling it can be to show up for someone else. It’s incredibly selfish being of service. It gives you a break from the problems in your own head, and when you do come back to them – as we inevitably do – they all appear smaller. – Study Buddy, Heather

On the day Shivani graduated from high school, her entire family was there – her parents, sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even cousins. But one other person was there, too, whose presence meant a whole lot to Shivani in a whole other way – her Study Buddy, Heather. 

When Shivani was 7 years old, she would turn to her parents for help with her homework. They made themselves as available as possible, but it wasn’t easy. Her father was in ongoing rehabilitation as the result of previous back injuries. Her mother worked full time. She was able to help Shivani in the evenings but recognized how her daughter would benefit from having a consistent mentor in her life.

Heather was Shivani’s second Study Buddy whom she met when she was 11 years old.

Heather was 28 and had left a demanding career in the restaurant industry. She had been turning to alcohol as a means of coping with the realities of a high-stress lifestyle. After much introspection and self-work, she turned herself around and began looking for opportunities to rebuild her life filled with meaningful things. Heather had learned how to pick herself back up and wanted to impart her newfound wisdom on someone who may benefit.

The Study Buddy program was the perfect fit for them both. “From the get-go we were friends,” remembers Heather. Shivani immediately responded to Heather’s quick wit and dry humour. Shivani was no stranger to bullying or the fear of opening herself up. But with Heather she found a safe place to be herself. “I take a little bit of pride in her sass,” says Heather.

Heather was more than a tutor. She taught Shivani to not be afraid of making mistakes and build the confidence to see passed letter grades – that her education was a way to determine how she wanted to contribute to the world. Shivani also credits Heather for bringing out her compassionate side. “I adopted the attitude that if I can help I will,” she says. “I see a lot of students around me and they don’t have that regard for other people.”

Over 10 years later, the two are still very much in each other’s lives. The relationship should’ve dissolved after high school. “But I will be there for her wedding, for her baby shower…” says Heather.

To Shivani, all girls would benefit from a mentor – no matter their circumstances. “You don’t choose your family – they have to be there,” says Shivani. “But Heather chose to be there for me for all those years, and that means a lot.” Beyond that is the difference made in the lives of the mentors. “When you consider that the work that’s being done is affecting two people and not just one, the ripple effect is doubled,” says Heather. “You’re impacting not just one, but two, and everyone they come in contact with.”

Shivani is completing her final year at the Sauder School of Business. Her education at UBC is the result of a CIBC scholarship and Peter Abramowich Foundation bursary that Shivani won through Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland. “Big Sisters opened up the biggest door for me which is to go to a big university. But beyond the financial help, they’ve made me the woman I am today.”

“We joke that she’s a mini version of me,” says Heather. “And if that’s true, then I must be doing okay.”