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Supporting Ukrainian students

Dale and Sienna stand on a rooftop balcony with city scape behind them Dale Wishewan and his oldest daughter and former UVic student, Sienna, are proud Ukrainian-Canadians committed to doing all they can for those impacted by the war. Photo of Dale and Sienna in Ukraine in 2019 (submitted).

In March 2022 the world watched in horror as news and images of Russia's invasion of Ukraine flooded the media. With a passion and desire to get “boots on the ground,” UVic donor Dale Wishewan and his oldest daughter Sienna, then a fourth-year political science student, flew to Eastern Europe to volunteer. Witnessing the horrific new reality facing ordinary Ukrainian citizens, the Wishewans searched for ways to help wherever they could. To that end, they are providing a safe haven for a Ukrainian family of five in Victoria, raising money for relief efforts and funding an emergency fellowship at UVic for Ukrainian PhD students.   

The emergency fellowship fund was initiated by faculty and staff in the Faculty of Humanities to assist academics whose studies and careers were put on an immediate and indefinite pause due to the war. Their efforts meant one doctoral student previously studying at a Ukrainian university could be hosted at UVic. Thanks to a generous donation from Dale’s business Booster Juice, the fund can now support two doctoral students. In addition to financial support, the students will receive peer and faculty mentors and office space to safely complete their degrees in Canada.

A family and business founded on philanthropic values

As the founder, president and CEO of Booster Juice, Dale is no stranger to philanthropy and making things happen. After starting the Canadian-born company in 1999, Dale grew Booster Juice from one to over 400 stores located in every province and territory in the country. The smoothie chain has been a philanthropic business from the onset, often donating money to pediatric health causes, and now supporting this fellowship at UVic. “I grew up very, very poor,” Dale says. “I’ve always found that it’s important to give back as soon as you can, whether that’s with your time or finances.”

The values of generosity and altruism run deep in the Wishewan family. It isn’t something they just talk about, it’s something they actively act on any chance they can. “My passion for social justice and doing the right thing has definitely been very natural and something that’s part of who I am,” Sienna says, “but it’s also learned because of how my family has prioritized graciousness and generosity.” When Dale shared with his friends and family that he was going to Europe to help out, Sienna immediately decided to go too. Sienna’s year-end finals were just a few weeks away. Despite this, “she wasn’t taking no for an answer!” says Dale.

Three people sorting clothes in a room full of clothes on hangers and cardboard boxes
Sienna sorting clothes at the humanitarian aid centre near the Poland-Ukraine border. Photo submitted by Dale Wishewan.

Finding more than one way to help

Within a month of Russia’s invasion, the two flew overseas and began helping at a MedAir humanitarian relief centre in Przemyśl, Poland. Here the father-daughter duo was willing to do anything—no task was too big or too small during their 14-hour days.

They returned to Canada so Sienna could finish her third year at UVic. She then went back to volunteer at the aid centre for another month. While assisting in the mom and baby room she met the family of five now living with her in Victoria. A grandmother, her two daughters and two grandchildren were hoping to move to Canada but would likely be split up because of how few people can accommodate a large family.

When Sienna heard the news that they would likely be separated, she made the offer that all of them could come to stay with her. One piece of inspiration she heard overseas left quite an impression and sticks with her to this day. “Do the good that you see in front of you. You don’t have to go and do this big thing but responding to the little things in front of you gradually becomes ingrained in who you are. I think this is how responsible, responsive communities are created and the world becomes a better place.”

“This unnecessary war has created such a terrible situation. There are people without their homes and work who are no different from us. I’m 53. If this were to happen here, my status and my company’s success wouldn't matter. I would be staying and fighting in the war, while my wife and daughters are leaving to get to safety. Ukrainians had this happen to them on a moment’s notice.” – Dale Wishewan
A man and young woman and small dog sitting on grass outside UVic's Clearihue building
Dale, Sienna and their pup in front of UVic's Clearihue building in 2022.

Booster Juice donation is a continuation of the family’s dedication

Dale and his family continued to ask what more they could do to support Ukrainians. As a political science student with dreams of pursuing law school and a self-described planner, Sienna acknowledges the immense stress it would cause to have your education journey thrown off course. “It’s unimaginable to think about how much regular life has been disrupted for people in Ukraine, especially students facing major transitions,” says Sienna. Thanks to the emergency fellowship, she knows that at least two students will be able to continue with their education and maintain some level of normalcy.

“As the media fades, we need to keep in the forefront of our minds that this is happening in real-time to real people,” Sienna says. “We need to keep centring the individuals affected.”

The Wishewans hope their actions will help keep the conflict top of mind for Canadians and encourage those who can give to do so. “The needs are greater than ever,” Dale says. “I know that there are exceptions to this, but most people can spare $5-20. Giving back doesn’t have to be large extravagant acts, it can simply be choosing to give up your $20 Friday evening bottle of wine and instead donating to relief efforts,” says Dale. “Giving back is personal to everyone and I think those who can do more, should.”  

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