This has been a very satisfying and rewarding month for Ziadah Nakayima. Just days after being accepted into the University of Toronto’s Health Science program, she graduated from the Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement & Determination (LEAD) initiative which teaches high school students life skills and helps them make the seamless transition to tertiary level education.
While enjoying the moment at the LEAD sixth annual graduation ceremony last Saturday at Kensington Health Care Centre, Nakayima reflected on the challenging journey she has endured during the last two years.
Migrating from Uganda nearly 24 months ago to join her mother who came here six years earlier, she said one of the first challenges she encountered was the educational system.
“I had already graduated from high school and was in my first year in university when I came here, but I was put back in Grade 10,” said Nakayima. “That was very difficult for me because I was in class with students younger than me and I was doing school work I had already done.”
Nakayima said the modular-based 10-week LEAD program helped with the challenging transition by aiding to organize and set goals while strengthening her character.
“I already had many things in my head that I wanted to do and I know I am capable of doing,” said the 20-year-old Central Technical School Grade 12 student. “The LEAD program has given me a plan that I could now follow to achieve my goals. I want to be a gynecologist and I also want to establish an organization to empower women.”
Nakayima thanked program directors Wendy Beckles, Dr. Juliet Daniel, Catherine Bruce and Nicole Baxter – the daughter-in-law of late Jamaica consul general Kay Baxter – for their guidance and support.
“They are selfless people who love us like if we are their family members,” said Nakayima. “They assured me I could do anything I want to do. I have learned so much from this program. All my goals are now set in the order I want them to be in.”
Mberiyandja Kauanivi faced similar hurdles when he migrated here from Namibia in 2011.
“It was hard because I was the only one from my family here in a new country,” he said. “Everything was different, including the school system and my accent which was frowned upon.”
Through LEAD, Kauanivi was able to adjust to his new environment and build confidence.
“This is certainly a program that I would recommend to any young person who is lost and looking for direction,” said the aspiring chartered accountant. “I now have hope.”
In the keynote address, Dr. Gervan Fearon, Dean of Ryerson University’s Raymond Chang School of Continuing Learning, provided the graduates with some useful tips to build on what they have learned in the program.
“Have a perspective at a global level, develop a method and refine it over time, identify your challenges and come up with ideas to surmount them and develop a strategy to realize your goals,” said Dr. Fearon, who will join Manitoba’s Brandon University as vice-president, academic & provost on July 1. “Also, ask questions as a method of discovery and understanding, think about yourself in terms of your brand and reputation and think about what you want to contribute to the next generation beyond yourselves.”
The other graduates were Tenzin Yanotsang, Zeenat Afghan, Ashley Beckles, Zhane Marriott, Thusika Kanagachandran, Sauda Nakawungu, Amanuel Ghebrezgabher, Ibrahim Kiyemba, Sakinna Gairey, Nicholas Mayambala, Yuliya Lashina and Ashley Gordon.
Over 100 high school students have passed through the program since its inception.
“The quality of students that have come through continue to be extremely impressive and increasingly more passionate,” said Royal Bank of Canada regional vice-president, Mark Beckles, who is one of the facilitators.
He also provided this year’s graduating class with some valuable advice.
“Know your gaps and develop a strategy to close them,” said Beckles. “Be disciplined in your approach and be prepared to make changes. Make an effort and have a positive impact. Have integrity, live up to your values and be uncompromising in those values.”
The program has come a long way since just one student showed up when it started. By using the words “at-risk” in their program mandate, the directors had unknowingly erected a barrier between the organization and the young people they were trying to reach.
The co-founders rewrote the entire program to reflect the students’ needs and were rewarded with 12 participants two weeks later.
“The focus was no longer on what we thought we could do for the students because we figured they needed it, but more on working individually with each of them to help them discover themselves, assess where they are in life and then chart their own way to success,” said Wendy Beckles, who is a certified general accountant and chief financial officer at the Kensington Health Care Centre.
She promised each LEAD graduate that the organization would reward them with $100 once they can provide proof that they are pursuing post-secondary education.
Former Barbados consul general Kay McConney, who has been a program facilitator since the inception, applauded the gesture.
“When you understand the circumstances some of these students come from and some of the challenges they had to overcome to be in this program and remain in it to the end, then you can comprehend that if just to be in that class was tough, just imagine what it’s like for them going to school,” said McConney. “This is quite an incentive for them to say, ‘If I keep working, if I keep pushing and I persevere, there is a reward on the other side in terms of acknowledgment and something that provides.’”
Other program facilitators include investment and insurance adviser, Len Carby and business development and social responsibility consultant, Rad Dockery.