Kay Ma describes the city in which she grew up in the 1990s — Oakville, Ontario — as “a bastion of bedroom community wealth, the Ford Factory and Tim Horton’s”.
But there must have been something else in the air, as well, because it produced Kay, now a community leader in social justice and environmental awareness in Peterborough, Ontario.
Kay is the co-ordinator of OPIRG (Ontario Public Interest Research), a Trent University “levy” group , which has been part of the Nogojiwanong-Peterborough community for 40 years.
There’s lots of variety to her work, and she loves it. It involves “the administration and facilitation of student and community education, action and research on social justice and environmental issues”, she says. That means everything from running the office to event planning to program evaluation to liaising with media to hiring and supervising part-time workers to helping create the organization’s budget and policies to catching up with volunteers’ lives.
“I like to see OPIRGs as training bases for a spring-off of student and community activists. Many board members of OPIRG go on to become lawyers, bankers, non-profit people and also community organizers, and I love seeing the Trent and downtown communities coming together.”
Kay has lived in Peterborough for a year and a half. Before this job, she was completing an internship at Queen’s University’s International Centre.
“I wanted to go into international education, but I found this job and it’s perfect because I was, at the same time, looking for more non-profit, social justice and education work.”
She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics and geography from the University of Ottawa, and a graduate diploma in communication studies from Concordia University.
“More importantly though, I attend the school of life every day.”
In her spare time, Kay likes to sing — a remnant from her days in a high school Regional Arts Program and member of the Oakville Children’s Choir.
Her heroes currently are author Anais Nin and American poet and activist Audre Lorde — “women who can write and reflect.”
What’s the best way to change the world?, we ask.
“Work on yourself first, and also those immediately around you. But also connect with people across the world — this is getting more and more easy to do with social media.”
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin.