Sanneta Myrie, who aspires to be a medical doctor, offered a sharp reminder Saturday night of the harsh financial reality most University of the West Indies (UWI) students face, and acknowledged how far the funds raised from the annual Toronto gala go in assisting young people with little or no financial resources to fulfil their academic potential.
On the verge of dropping out of medical school after her financial options were exhausted, Myrie was rescued by a $5,000 UWI Toronto scholarship presented in the name of distinguished Caribbean clinical cardiologist Dr. Charles Denbow who passed away five years ago.
Myrie and her nine-year-old brother live with their father – Jeffrey – who has been unable to work for several years because of a series of debilitating strokes.
“It seemed that I was at the end of the road as a medical student,” Myrie, 22, said at the fifth fundraising gala. “My dream to be not only a health care provider but a source of inspiration for my little brother now seemed unattainable. I was really beat up and I conceded it was time to go home to Westmoreland. When I broke the grim news to my dad, his response was, ‘San, nah bother with it’.
“He told me there were times when my faith would be tested and this was one of those occasions.”
Myrie’s father was right.
When the crestfallen student informed her dean she would be unable to continue her university education, he still allowed her to register for the fourth year and also gave her a UWI Toronto scholarship form. Three weeks later, she was notified that she was one of 29 recipients of a 2012-13 financial award.
“It was surreal and when I called my dad, he was so excited,” Myrie, who is a talented dancer and actress, recalled. “I could feel that a burden was lifted off his shoulder. Despite the fact that he dropped out of school in Grade Seven and was a construction worker who later owned a business before falling sick, he wanted me to fulfil my professional dream of becoming a surgeon. I was the first of his five children to enter university and he’s so very proud of that…The scholarship transcended its monetary value. It fortified my faith.”
Myrie, the 2012 Miss UWI Mona campus pageant queen, reminded the gala attendees that her story is not special.
“For my fellow recipients, these scholarships are testimony that light has been provided in the darkest of times,” she said.
Close to 200 UWI students have benefitted from scholarships raised from funds derived from the annual Toronto fundraiser spearheaded by patron Raymond Chang and his wife Donette Chin-Loy.
Vice-chancellor Dr. Nigel Harris concurred that Myrie’s challenges in pursuit of higher education are not unique.
“Many of these young people come to one of our campuses literally with a wish and a prayer,” he said. “The trouble is if they haven’t paid by December, they aren’t allowed to do their exams and indeed, at that point, they are frantically going around looking for some form of support. These are very, very talented young people.”
Harris, who six years ago led the creation of a fourth virtual open campus designed to deliver education at a distance to students in all 16 contributing countries without access to the residential campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, presented the Vice-chancellor Awards to Rev. Peter Fenty, Dr. Anna Jarvis, Delores Lawrence, David Taylor and Roger Mooking who was unable to attend the event.
The award honours Caribbean nationals who are trailblazers in their respective fields.
Last June, Fenty became the Anglican Church of Canada’s first Black bishop while Jarvis – a UWI graduate – taught at the University of Toronto and created, implemented and supervised The Hospital for Sick Children paediatrics department’s clinical fellowship program in paediatric medicine for 13 years.
Though retired from the hospital since 2010, Jarvis spends time teaching and mentoring in Canada and the rest of the world. She’s also an external examiner and highly requested speaker for global paediatric emergency conferences.
Lawrence, a University of Toronto nursing graduate and the holder of an MBA from the University of New Hampshire, founded Nursing & Homemakers Inc. which provides health care services to hospitals, nursing, retirement and private homes. Taylor is a management accountant and philanthropist and Mooking is a celebrity chef, television host, cookbook author and award-wining recording artist.
UWI chancellor Sir George Alleyne presented this year Chancellor’s Award to The Hospital for Sick Children that’s recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education.
Recognizing there is a serious shortage of physicians with paediatric cancer care training and limited technological resources, SickKids Foundation – which raises funds for the hospital – is in the process of developing a Caribbean network aimed at improving clinical outcomes and the quality of life for children who are suffering from cancer and serious blood disorders.
The five-year plan – which will be supported by Can$7.3 million that SickKids is trying to raise over that period – will address gaps in research, care and education in order to advance the diagnosis and management of paediatric cancer and serious blood disorders across the Caribbean.
In accepting the award, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer Dr. Michael Apkon said $7 million has already been raised in just over a year.
Luminary awards were presented to Jamaican reggae fusion recording artist and last season’s The Voice winner Tessanne Chin, Jimmy Cliff who’s the only living Jamaican to hold the Order of Merit which is the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for excellence in the arts and sciences and former Canadian Member of Parliament Dr. Hedy Fry.
“I always think somebody must have made a mistake somewhere along the way because I don’t believe I have ever sought to do great things or to move forward,” said Fry who practiced family medicine in Vancouver before entering politics. “I was just lucky to have a father who believed that his daughter could be anything she wanted to be.”
Cliff was unable to attend the gala.
Counting among its graduates several heads of government, one Nobel laureate and many distinguished leaders and professionals, the UWI has contributed the most to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century.
Established in 1948 as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in a special relationship with the University of London, the institution has provided approximately 5,300 scholarships since it opened 66 years ago with 23 male and 10 female students who began their academic journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Gibraltar and Malta.