UWI Toronto Benefit Awards
Call for support for fundraising initiative to help needy students
By Lincoln DePradine
Michael Lee-Chin, the Jamaican-Canadian millionaire, understands what it’s like to be a financially challenged university student because he’s been in that position. So, he’s encouraging support for an ongoing Canadian initiative aimed at raising funds for needy students to attend the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Lee-Chin says after a year of civil engineering studies at McMaster University, he ran out of money and needed help. He wrote the Jamaican prime minister requesting assistance and received a government scholarship, which enabled him to graduate from McMaster in 1974.
“My success is 100 percent attributable to the largesse of the Jamaican people in giving me a scholarship,’’ Lee-Chin said last Saturday, while speaking at the 2021 UWI Toronto Benefit Awards.
The UWI, established in 1948, has a student population of more than 45,000. It has graduated more than 120,000 students – many of them now residing in Canada.
The Toronto Benefit Awards’ ceremony, which is also a fundraiser for UWI, was inaugurated in 2010, providing annual scholarships to academically outstanding university students in need of financial assistance.
Lee-Chin, whose investments include serving as chairman and CEO of Portland Holdings Inc. – majority shareholders in the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica – implored public support for the UWI Scholarship Fund, saying it will help deliver “the next generation of leaders from the Caribbean’’.
The 70-year-old businessman and philanthropist, whose net worth is estimated at US$1.5 billion by Forbes, was a lead sponsor of Saturday’s Toronto Benefit Awards.
Another lead sponsor of the online event was Scotiabank. The bank’s partnership with UWI, over the years, has “collectively raised over $2.3 million and has awarded over 600 scholarships to young students in dire financial need’’, said Anya Schnoor, Scotia’s executive vice president for the Caribbean, Central America and Uruguay.
“We’re here to make a difference and help shape the lives of many of our future leaders across our communities in the Caribbean,’’ she said. “Youth are our future for both social and economic prosperity.’’
One of this year’s scholarship recipients is Mikkel Wilson, a Trinidadian majoring in community health at UWI’s faculty of medical sciences at Cave Hill, Barbados.
“I wish Mr Wilson, and all of this year’s recipients, the very best in their studies and in the future,’’ UWI Chancellor Robert Bermudez said in remarks Saturday.
He, and other speakers, reflected on the impact on education of the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed for contributions to the UWI Scholarship Fund.
“Sincere thanks to the supporters of the 2021 Toronto gala for the University of the West Indies. Your ongoing support for the UWI is deeply appreciated,’’ said Bermudez, adding that students “are the ultimate beneficiaries of all that we do’’.
The outbreak of COVID-19, he said, “highlighted many inequities across, and within, societies. The education sector globally has been especially impacted and I am proud of the manner in which the leadership of the UWI, ably supported by our academic and administrative teams, transitioned to remote online teaching to ensure that our students were not disenfranchised’’.
The event’s theme was, “Meeting the Moment’’. The theme, said UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, “is really in fact a call to action’’; something, he said, UWI has done in dealing with the pandemic.
“We did not retreat. In fact, we rose up to assist our governments in savings lives,’’ Sir Hilary said.
He, too, noted that the principal purpose of the gala was raising funds to provide students with access “to quality higher education’’.
It’s important the gala is held, despite the inability of participants to meet in person, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“I know virtual events aren’t the same as being together in person. But, it’s important that we still celebrate our accomplishments during this challenging time,’’ the prime minister said in a video message.
“I know the past year has been difficult; but, for young people around the world, this pandemic has been particularly challenging. They’ve missed out on opportunities and milestones; and, for those who are already struggling, the pandemic has made finding work, paying bills and getting an education even more difficult. This is the unfortunate reality for more than 3,000 students at the University if the West Indies. By being here tonight, you’re helping to create change.’’
The co-patrons of the event were philanthropist, innovator and entrepreneur Dr Wesley J. Hall; and the family of the late philanthropist and businessman G. Raymond Chang.
Apart from raising funds, the annual gala honours leaders and organizations of Canadian and Caribbean heritage, or those “whose body of work have had an impact on the Caribbean’’.
The UWI “continues to be a bright torchbearer’’, said award recipient Dr. Graça Machel.
Mozambique-born Machel, widow of late South African President Nelson Mandela, and
international model Naomi Campbell, both received UWI Luminary Awards.
Others honoured included businessman and philanthropist Denham Jolly, who received the G. Raymond Chang Award; and the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was presented with the Chancellor’s Award. Vice-Chancellor Awards were given to business executive Wendy Beckles, CEO at Shepherd Village Inc.; lawyer and trade expert Pamela Coke-Hamilton, who has been serving as executive director of the International Trade Centre; and to professor Kevin Fenton, a respected medical doctor considered one of the most influential Black people in Britain.
The gala, which included a performance by Grammy award-winning recording artiste Shaggy – a 2015 Luminary Award recipient – was hosted by CBC News anchor Dwight Drummond.
“Your support tonight can help countless students achieve their dreams, when it would have otherwise been impossible,’’ Drummond said, reinforcing the importance of the fundraising aspect of the event.