Laura Keegan

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 39

Job Title: Humanitarian Issues Program Co-ordinator, Canadian Red Cross

Why She’s A Top 40:¬†Even after being taken hostage and contracting malaria, she remains committed to humanitarianism, teaching youth about international issues and helping refugees and immigrants find displaced loved ones.

Key To Her Success:¬†“I’m a little bit of a troublemaker and like to stir the pot. I think that makes me good at my job.”

Laura Keegan is a firm believer that the personal is political. “Unless people have a personal connection, they’re never going to care about [the politics],” she says.

As the humanitarian issues co-ordinator with the Canadian Red Cross in Edmonton, she works hard to make international issues personal for the next generation. Last year, Keegan helped organize the first-ever Global Youth Symposium, a weekend event that taught young people about amnesty issues by displacing and moving them at will from one outdoor location to another. The simulations taught teens about the life of a refugee, being bullied by rebels or state authorities and being forced to relocate to camps in strange places.

“It’s not about them going overseas and becoming humanitarian aid workers,” says Keegan. Rather, it’s about teaching social responsibility. “You can be anything you want, but be responsible about how you do it.”

Simulations instill a degree of understanding and compassion, but they are not the same as real-life experience, as Keegan knows all too well. In addition to earning her master’s degree in social work from the University of Calgary, giving her a strong theoretical background, the Saskatoon native has plenty of first-hand knowledge of humankind’s suffering that makes her the best person for the job.

As a teen, Keegan lost a friend to AIDS. The experience fostered an interest in on-the-ground HIV/AIDS relief work that has taken her from Calgary to Papua New Guinea – a country where an HIV-positive person could be killed by others who believe the illness is caused by witchcraft.

Witchcraft proved to be the least of her worries. During her three years there, Keegan was taken hostage in a tiny village by men in war paint brandishing machetes. After being released, her bad luck continued when she contracted malaria and later suffered injuries after being tripped down some stairs by a dog named “Safety.”

But far from dampening her dedication to humanitarianism, her experiences only strengthened it. Upon returning to Canada in 2008, she happily accepted a job with the local Red Cross. In addition to working with youth, she co-ordinates the organization’s branch of Restoring Family Links, a global program helping reconnect families displaced by natural disasters and conflict.

With a new condo in Oliver, a job she loves and a quieter life, Keegan knows she’ll work overseas again. “You never come back the same,” she says.

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