While there wasn’t a formal or structured mentorship program at Jamaica’s Ardenne High School in his time, Len Carby recognized the tangible benefits of personal development relationships in his early teens at his church where he encountered individuals who cared and helped him navigate challenges in and out of the classroom.
“These people were responsible for raising my self-esteem and helping me grow as a person by providing priceless experiences and expertise,” recalls Carby who migrated to Canada 14 years ago and is a Royal Bank of Canada investment and retirement planner. “They helped me learn how critical it is to have that kind of support at a crucial stage in a young person’s life.”
Now he’s ready to share clinical knowledge and skills and enhance Ardenne students’ personal professional development.
Carby, a past Ardenne High School Toronto alumni assistant treasurer, is one of six graduates who are part of a ground-breaking e-mentorship initiative linking the school’s alumni members in the Greater Toronto Area with students at the leading Jamaican co-educational institution.
Through online guidance and support, the mentor/mentee partnership aims to improve academic performance and leadership qualities of students who are not excelling academically or are one the verge of quitting high school.
“Ardenne played a major role in shaping my pursuit of educational excellence,” said Carby who graduated in 1983 and was a 2010 Brampton city councillor candidate and a former Brampton Neighbourhood Resource Centre chair. “Since I am not physically able to be in Jamaica to give back to my alma mater, I seized the opportunity to be part of this mentorship initiative to help young students succeed in the classroom while offering career guidance, advice and any other assistance.”
The online program, devised by the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations (AJAA) and CUSO International, was launched last week at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre.
The project is part of CUSO’s Diaspora for Development two-year public-private initiative designed to mobilize diaspora communities to address human resource gaps.
Mentors will partner with mentees through Skype for a minimum two hours weekly during the six-month pilot for Grades 9-12 students that runs until the end of June.
“We will evaluate the program in July and August and if all goes well, we would like to roll out a full program for a school year starting in September,” said AJAA former president and Ardenne graduate Paul Barnett. “We will turn to the AJAA in our quest to recruit 94 more mentors at that time.”
CUSO International executive director Derek Evans said the e-mentorship project combines the latest technology with diaspora members’ wisdom and Jamaican youth who are keen to improve their lives.
“It offers an online platform and easy two-way communication and discussion about important topics,” he added. “It’s also a pilot because it’s an opportunity for us to learn how we can figure out some of those technical bugs and things that get in the way and work them out over the course of the evaluation so that we can make it work.
“We all believe that young people are the drivers of development and prosperity and too many are left behind. Their potential is untapped and lost to the community. Social and economic inclusion of our young people is a key focus for CUSO International’s work throughout the Caribbean and this project gives them skills and support they need for a brighter future.”
Jonathan Wheatou, a 1987 Ardenne graduate who is a York Region business development officer, welcomes the opportunity to reconnect with his alma mater.
“I was in the science and sport streams before heading to the University of the West Indies to pursue a degree in applied physics,” he said. “Ardenne provided me with a solid education and the self-confidence to go out into the world and pursue my goals. Many of its graduates might not have a lot of financial resources to give back to the school along with time because we have families and are busy trying to provide for them here. The online mentorship program affords me an opportunity to try to make a difference in the life of a child.”
Clarecia Christie, who arrived in Canada in 2008 after spending eight years in Barbados with the Caribbean Export Development Agency, fondly remembers her high school years.
“They were the best and most fulfilling,” recalls the 1991 graduate and international business consultant. “At Ardenne, I was instilled with a sense of empowerment and community that has helped me along the way as I transitioned from a student to an adult and professional. I am so fortunate that I have a chance to reach out to a young person to help them along the way.”
The other mentors are 1983 graduate Cavell McLaren-Lynch who is a Scotiabank senior manager, real estate agent Karen Whittaker-Williams and 2002 graduate Andrew Ingram who came to Canada as an international student and is now a structural engineer.
Established in 1961 as Canadian University Service Overseas on the foundation of early university-based initiatives, CUSO International – as the organization has been known since 2011 – collaborated with the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education two years ago to celebrate its five decades of service and Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary.
“It was at this event that we started discussions about this e-mentorship initiative that has now become a reality,” said Barnett.
In the last five decades, CUSO has supported nearly 600 volunteers who have been to Jamaica to share their human rights, organizational development, public relations and gender equality expertise.
They include sickle cell advocate and retired health care professional Lillie Johnson who provided health information and medical treatment to residents in poor and disadvantaged communities nearly 25 years ago. She later served on CUSO’s advisory committee after returning to Canada.
The nonagenarian attended the e-mentorship initiative launch.
CUSO is currently recruiting 11 volunteers for Jamaica field assignments ranging from community development and entrepreneurship to alternative justice and organization development.
The successful candidates will leave in June.