A Grade 12 student at Nelson Mcintyre Collegiate in Winnipeg is one of only 31 youth in Canada to earn the prestigious Loran scholarship as of this month, and the only Manitoban in the bunch, too.
Bilal Ayyache, 17, heard recently that he was one of a select few to secure one of the $100,000 scholarships. The scholarship goes to excellent students who show strong leadership and commitment to the community.
Ayyache is a former Palestinian refugee who came to Canada three years ago by way of Nigeria.
The straight-A student works at Starbucks and was on shift when he got the fateful call.
"My phone started vibrating in my pocket and I had a customer. I was like, 'Oh no' — I knew the results were coming, I was scared," he said.
The call disconnected but was followed swiftly by another, this time from Ayyache's mother, telling him to call the Loran scholarship people back immediately.
Ayyache dutifully worked away until break time, at which point he hurried out from behind the counter, pulled his phone out and got in touch with the scholarship administrators.
"My heart was pumping. It was one of the scariest moments I've ever had — a call that could change my life," he said.
Ayyache told his mother the good news, who started "singing and laughing and running around the house."
"I was really happy that I made my mom proud and my family proud, my dad," Ayyache said, adding teachers at his school have congratulated him on the rare win.
Ayyache is a busy student. He has maintained exceptionally high grades between time spent volunteering at St. Boniface Hospital and taking part in his school's junior achievers program.
The ambitious teen plans to put the scholarship toward a bachelor of science degree before heading into medical school at the University of British Columbia.
Ayyache has his heart set on becoming a heart surgeon, a vision that came to him after falling off a swing as "just a little kid."
Ayyache cut his face and fainted after the accident.
"All I remember is ... my hands full of blood," he said. "The second thing I remember is this doctor telling me, 'Hey, Bilal, you're going to be all right.' After that, when I heard this voice, my heart was really ... happy and comfortable.
"I was like, 'Wow, these doctors have a lot of power," Ayyache says, adding he knows becoming a surgeon is his calling in life because he's motivated to help save lives.
Journey from Lebanon
His father's journey from Lebanon to Canada is also one of the main things driving Ayyache forward.
"Coming from Lebanon, Palestinians over there were treated like [slaves]. Like, a doctor who would make $2,000 a week, they would make $300 a week if they were Palestinian."
Ayyache's father was an electrical engineer in Lebanon. He landed a good job in Nigeria, where he worked away and lived alone for three years while supporting his family who still lived in Lebanon, Ayyache says.
"Rather than him staying there ... he decided to come to Canada just for me and my little brother just to get a good future," Ayyache says.
"That's my motivation to keep going forward," he says.