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  Home : Live Your Dream Awards : 2016 Finalists

2016 Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women Finalists

Like so many SoroptimistLive Your Dream Award recipients, the 2016 finalists have faced unimaginable obstacles. They’ve endured darkness and heartache beyond belief. But despite the inconceivable challenges that would knock most down for good, these women have risen, embodying the true meaning of strength and perseverance.

Each is a warrior fighting for the dream of a brighter future. For these brave women, the path to victory is clear. Though they are on separate journeys in different parts of the world, their courage and unconquerable spirits connect them. Their inspiring stories serve as a reminder of just how much women can achieve with just a little bit of help.

Meet the 2016 Live Your Dream Award finalists. This year, Soroptimist is honored to award $10,000 to three passionate, hard-working, strong women. Below are the stories of Terriea and Sandra. For privacy issues, the third recipient's story is not provided.

Terriea W.


Like many indigenous children in her part of Canada, Terriea Wadud of Vancouver was adopted at a young age. Her adoptive mother physically and emotionally abused her until Terriea was placed back into the child welfare system at the age of 12.

The chaos continued in the group homes in which she lived.

“I seemed to take on the role of the hero among the girls,” Terriea recalls. “If a girl was getting picked on, I would ‘protect’ her by any means, including being abusive with my language and physically threatening the instigator. When this became too much, I would run away to the streets of Toronto.”

A pretty girl with low self-esteem alone on the streets, Terriea was an ideal target for pimps and was then trafficked in the sex trade across Ontario. Police searched relentlessly for her, and after a brutal beating by her pimp, they met up with Terriea at the hospital and asked whether she was ready to charge him. Terriea, who had just learned she was pregnant with her pimp’s child, agreed to charge him.

At 16 years old and 8 months pregnant, she testified against her pimp. His lawyer viciously tried to portray her as a troubled young girl and the questioning was emotionally and physically exhausting. But her calm and honest testimony paid off and Terriea’s pimp received six and a half years of jail time.

When her daughter was born, Terriea vowed not to be anything like her adoptive mother. But her traumatic past made being a good mother difficult. She admits checking out emotionally, and sometimes physically, as a parent. She felt suicidal and turned to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. With no formal education she wasn’t able to secure employment, so she remained in the sex industry as an exotic dancer.

At age 24, Terriea says she just couldn’t feel her worth. But then an opportunity presented itself and became the first step in turning her life around. She completed a university-entrance program called the Transitional Year at the University of Toronto. Terriea continued with a life-changing volunteer training program at Battered Women’s Support Services, where she was eventually hired as an outreach counselor and then the manager of a women’s safety and outreach program.

Supporting women and girls with similar traumatic histories and experiences of violence and abuse has helped Terriea heal her own traumatic past. Her ability to create and hold a safe space for women to share, counsel and explore problem-solving solutions has ignited her passion to pursue formal counselor training.

But just when things seemed to be getting on track, the program lost funding and Terriea was laid off. At the same time, she had a miscarriage and ended a three-year relationship. Not being able to afford rent on her own without an income, she and her children became homeless.

Rather than letting these obstacles send her into a downward spiral, Terriea took up meditation and chanting to move through her feelings. She also reconnected with her birth mother, which has helped her learn about her indigenous culture and spirituality, and brings her great comfort.
Now staying with friends, Terriea says she is determined to heal this cycle. She has accepted a temporary position with her previous employer, and is hopeful that it will lead to a full-time job.

The Live Your Dream Awards mean stability for Terriea and her family. She is using the awards to pay for her tuition, so that no matter what this next year has in store, she will not have to put her schooling on hold for financial reasons.

Terriea’s dream is to eventually start her own counseling/life coaching business.

“My prayers look a lot different today than when I was a little girl. There were many times being exploited on the streets or in my addiction I thought I was going to die and I didn’t care,” she said. “Now I have a purpose. I will continue to create a safe space for others to do their healing and transformational work. I will use my voice to share my story to inspire others to do the same. The Live Your Dream Awards will help me to further my growth, accountability and commitment to be a transformational agent and end this cycle for my family!”


Sandra R.F.


Life first began throwing challenges at Sandra Rojas Fernandez of Bolivia when she was just a baby. When she was seven months old, her father passed away, leaving her young mother alone to care for Sandra and her three brothers. Times were hard and even the young children had to pitch in, washing clothes and cooking for other people.

When the children almost drowned washing clothes in the river, her mother sent them to live with relatives hoping they could have a better life. Unfortunately, for Sandra, that led to a childhood filled with neglect, physical abuse, and rape. 

Sandra’s mother sent Sandra to live with her aunt and uncle in the city of Sucre, where she was told Sandra would get an education. But it wasn’t long after going to live there that Sandra figured out that her aunt and uncle’s promises for a better life were false. They beat her, often refused to feed her, and forced her to work at their store. When she could take it no more, Sandra ran away and was placed in a foster home. A few days later her mother, who she had not seen in almost seven years, came to pick her up.

Now remarried, Sandra’s mother took her home to live with her and her new husband. Sandra’s mother worked during the day, leaving Sandra home with her stepfather, who turned out to be an alcoholic. He tried raping Sandra several times while she was home alone with him.

“I didn’t want to tell my mother so she wouldn’t suffer,” Sandra recalls.
But Sandra’s nightmare continued, when her stepfather’s son one day came to the house visit and found Sandra alone. He raped her and when she told her mother what had happened, she was not believed.

“I left the house, carrying all that pain,” said Sandra.

By age 15, Sandra was pregnant. She eventually married the father and together they had three more children. Unfortunately, he drank a lot and was abusive to her and the children.

Finally, Sandra found the courage to end the relationship. She got a divorce and began focusing on her children to pull her through the heartache. But the bad times were far from over. Sandra’s oldest son suffered from depression and committed suicide. Her daughter got pregnant and then married at a very young age. And then, during all this emotional chaos, there was an explosion at the nearby mine, which caused her house to be destroyed. Sandra and her family lost everything and had to live in a tent for some time.

Though she has endured incredible hardship, Sandra is determined to keep going and to improve her life and her children’s lives, including a young grandson whom she supports.

At the age of 43, she is picking up the pieces and working to gain her high school diploma, with help from her Live Your Dream Awards. Her ultimate dream is to study at the university in Orujo City and to become a chef. 
“Everything I went through pushes me forward so I can finish school,” said Sandra. “I want to overcome all obstacles so that my son and grandson can become good people.”

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Watch short videos featuring past award recipients

Rebecca Shuflin, 2014

Christina Valadez, 2014

Shirlee Draper, 2014

Dawn Johnson, 2012

Gladyn Minzey, 2011

Kimberly Thompson, 2010

Lisa Boyd, 2010

Lisa Curless, 2009

Joyce Snow, 2008

Colleen Sword, 2008

This is my dream: Tyra Wright-Johnson

This is my dream: Sena Kimbrell

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