Fiona’s gift helps social workers to help others

23 June 2022

#Philanthropy@UC A young woman who cared about people and held a strong sense of social justice has created a powerful legacy for Social Work students at the University of Canterbury.

  • Fiona Leeves

    Fiona Leeves graduated UC with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology and started her third year of study for a Bachelor of Social Work in 2006.

Sustainable Development Goals 4 - Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

Fiona Leeves began studying at the Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury as a 17-year-old in 2003. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology and started her third year of study for a Bachelor of Social Work in 2006.

But, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour in August of that year and returned home to Sandspit, Warkworth, where her parents Chris and Raewyn Leeves cared for her until she died in 2007, aged 22.

In 2009 Chris and Raewyn established the Fiona Leeves Memorial Prize to help other students succeed in a career their daughter would have loved to pursue.

The $6000 prize is awarded each year to a Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury Applied Masters or Honours Social Work student in recognition of research contributions identifying characteristics of leadership in Social Work.

Raewyn says Fiona was very interested in research but she was a real people person as well.

“Social workers aren’t usually given a lot of recognition and they do a lot of hard work in the background. After she became ill Fiona asked us if we could set up a scholarship to support other Social Work students. It’s nice that we’ve been able to keep that promise for her.”

She says Fiona believed in a metaphorical bubble, where if you take care of people close to you and they take care of the people close to them, that means the bubble gets bigger and everyone is better off.

“She was a very warm, friendly person. She was our only child, but no-one would have picked her as an only child.”

Chris says his daughter, who had volunteered for Christchurch Women’s Refuge while studying, had a unique ability to connect with people and a strong sense of social justice. “She always wanted to help people less fortunate than her. She was quite a deep thinker, as if she had an old head on young shoulders. It was a privilege for us to be her parents.”

Megan Malcolm, who received the Fiona Leeves Memorial Prize for 2021 last November, plans to use the prize to complete her PhD when the time is right.

Megan completed her Applied Masters in Social Work last year and is now working for Stand Children’s Services in Christchurch.

She says the prize means a lot to her. “It was really amazing to be recognised for the work that I’d put in because my research placement last year was quite intense, I put a lot of effort into it and research is a passion of mine. But I was pretty gobsmacked to win, to be fair, because there were a lot of really great people in my classes who contributed a lot.”

Her research placement was with Right Service Right Time, an inter-agency collaboration that aims to improve the well-being of children, young people and their whānau.

After speaking with Chris and Raewyn Leeves online when the award was presented, Megan discovered she had similar interests to their daughter.

“It turned out that a lot of things that Fiona had done in the course of her degree I had also done, so that was really interesting to me and made it feel even more meaningful.”

Megan plans to start a PhD in Social Work at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury in a few years’ time and has put the prize money aside for that goal.

At the moment she is enjoying her role at Stand Children’s Services where she works with kids with complex needs aged 5 to 12, helping them overcome barriers and making sure they can fully engage with school.

Megan, who grew up in Ōtautahi Christchurch, completed a BA in Psychology and worked for the Salvation Army Reintegration Service helping newly released prisoners before beginning her Masters in 2019. 

  • Megan Malcolm

    Megan Malcolm receiving the Fiona Leeves Memorial Prize, with Chris and Raewyn Leeves joining online.

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