During Leaside High School’s recent Parent-Teacher Interview Sessions in November, sisters Gemma and Anna Postill set up a booth to sell their handcrafted jewellery line called Be The Vibe Jewellery. But it wasn’t all about selling bling. The siblings raised more than $500 for their charity Compassion Canada.
These enterprising and creative young women first became familiar with Compassion Canada when Gemma, now 17, attended a conference two and a half years ago and decided to sponsor a child through that organization. They were also inspired by their volunteer work during their summer holidays.
Last year, Anna, now 16, travelled to Ecuador and the Amazon rainforest where she helped to build a school. This trip was organized by a “Me to We” club in the school they used to attend in Halifax. While she was there, Anna was struck by the fact that the volunteers were given bottled water, but the residents used the local supply, and questioned the discrepancy in the quality of water for the volunteers and residents. She believed that if the volunteers could not drink the water, neither should the residents. Anna also took part in the Yale Global Scholars Conference where she worked on a group project to develop a solution to global problems such as sustaining a supply of safe drinking water in developing countries.
Gemma’s volunteer trip was to Argentina in 2015 where she was the youngest participant working in a variety of health-care settings, gaining medical experience toward her goal of becoming a doctor. This past summer, she was chosen to attend the National Student Leadership Conference in Health and Medicine in Washington, where she helped to develop the “Gravity Lights Project,” with the purpose of finding a method to create and sustain a safe drinking water system in South Sudan. Gemma also took part in Oxford Scholastica, studying law, public policy and medicine, and was chosen as the valedictorian for her session.
So it came as no surprise that the sisters should decide, while walking in Serena Gundy Park this past September, they wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. The very next day, Gemma received a mailing from Compassion Canada, and the sisters decided to partner with that organization to raise money through a jewellery business. The organization told them that help was needed to raise money to build a sustainable rain harvesting system to provide safe drinking water for families in Rwandan communities. Such a system that will serve 468 people costs some $3,000.
All their lives, Anna and Gemma have been motivated and inspired by their parents, ”huge role models” who immersed them in a culture of leadership and community service at an early age. Their father, David Postill, is the vice-president of marketing at the Toronto Symphony. Their mother, Shannon MacDonald, a chartered accountant and vice-chair at Deloitte, has been named one of Canada’s Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Most Powerful Women three times.
As Anna said, the sisters find it “very rewarding to work together, and it helps that we have different strengths.” Gemma is in charge of the internal aspects of Be the Vibe, such as making the jewellery, creating the website and handling financial matters. Anna, on the other hand, deals with the external aspects of the company such as publicity, marketing and social media, including a Facebook page and an Instagram account. While they might disagree at times, on the whole, they enjoy an “awesome” collaborative working environment, always knowing what each other is going to say.
Even with their studies in Grade 11 and 12 and their business, the sisters somehow find time for a variety of extracurricular activities. Gemma is the co-chair of Leaside’s Mental Health and Wellness Committee and part of the Ecoteam, she plays tennis, and she also has a part-time job. She hopes to become a doctor and is applying to life science programs at university. Anna is also part of the Mental Health and Wellness Committee and the community action team at school, and she plays squash. Her goal is to pursue a career in engineering and entrepreneurship.
In the meantime, they find their charitable business venture very fulfilling. As Gemma said, “Despite it taking up a lot of time, it’s not draining, but motivating.” Anna added, “We want to share our energy and skills with our community, both at home and in developing countries.”