Western student awarded scholarship from Crohn's and Colitis Canada

Naji Balche is among 10 students from across Canada who has been awarded an AbbVie IBD Scholarship from Crohn's and Colitis Canada.

Naji Balchey, who lives with colitis, was selected from 370 applicants

Western University student Naji Balchey was awarded a $5,000 AbbVie IBD Scholarship by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. (Crohn’s and Colitis Canada)

Naji Balche is among 10 students from across Canada who have been awarded an AbbVie IBD Scholarship from Crohn's and Colitis Canada.

The Western University student was diagnosed with colitis seven years ago - a condition that has had a negative impact on his physical health and quality of life. But that hasn't stopped him from continuing his studies in sociology and raising awareness about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

"[Being awarded the scholarship] was great, not only just for receiving the scholarship, but for the fact that I'm able to have a platform where I can help people who are like me and actually make a difference, it's a really cool feeling," said Balche.

Each recipient will receive $5,000 toward their tuition, funds that Balche says will benefit him with his condition.

"One of the biggest things for me personally with Colitis is that stress tends to elevate my symptoms, so having the financial stress lowered is just a great feeling and allows me to continue focusing on my volunteering," he said.

Balche has been a leader in building awareness of IBD within the Western University student community. He is the founding president of the Crohn's and Colitis Club of Western and is actively involved in organizing community fundraisers.

"There's a lot of embarrassing symptoms that a lot of people don't want to talk about because it's a bowel disease," said Balche. "Since it is invisible, it is easy not to talk about."

According to Crohn's and Colitis Canada, nearly a quarter of a million Canadians live with either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, which are the two main forms of IBD. The autoimmune diseases cause the body to attack healthy tissue, leading to inflammation of all or part of the gastrointestinal tract. Common symptoms include severe abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, internal bleeding, and the unpredictable and urgent need to use the washroom.

"People are often diagnosed with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis in their late teens or early 20s, which can make the already challenging task of completing post-secondary education all the more stressful," said Mina Mawani, President and CEO of Crohn's and Colitis Canada in a news release.

"Our scholarship recipients demonstrate their strength and resilience in overcoming these challenges on a daily basis. Crohn's and Colitis Canada is delighted to support our recipients and proud that they continue to support others living with these chronic diseases by being actively involved in their communities, all while striving toward their academic goals."

Since 2012, the AbbVie IBD Scholarship Program has supported nearly 70 Canadian students in navigating post-secondary education while living with Crohn's or colitis by awarding scholarships that total in excess of $345,000.