By Jasminee Sahoye
A Dominican student, pursuing a Management Studies degree with a minor in Economics, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), shed tears when she told the more than 400 gathered at this year’s UWI Toronto Benefit Gala at the Ritz Carlton hotel that her dream of becoming an economist is being fulfilled, thanks to the generosity of Canadians.
Aaronia Stedman’s story touched the hearts of many in the audience. She said she will be the first of two generations to attain a university degree. Her mother, a widow, struggled to make ends meet to take care of her and five siblings. Her ambition is be an Economics Analyst and that required a tertiary education. “I was thought that my life is what I make it.” she said. So she saved EC$3,000 from doing odd jobs, the amount required to secure a loan from the credit union. The loan she acquired but it was barely enough to finance three of the four years of studies. “I prayed and I decided that where there’s will there’s a way…,” she said.
“When I heard I was granted a scholarship, I dropped what I was doing. I kneeled on the floor and cried as I was overcome with tears of gratitude and joy praying and thanking God for seeing my efforts and making my dream come true,” said Stedman. “…this scholarship has allowed me to see the silver lining in the clouds of grey.”
She was at the Toronto gala last Saturday to share her story of perseverance. “I thank God for the donors of the UWI Canadian gala scholarship especially since it’s through their generous contributions that people like me and many others are able to pursue our studies.”
Patron, Jamaican-born Ryerson Chancellor, G Raymond Chang and his wife Donette Chin-Loy Chang have been in the forefront of the gala since it was established four years. During the past three years, more than 75 scholarships have been awarded to students across the Caribbean.
“Out theme is light, learning and liberty and it’s shining in the messages our students share with us …. Your focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. The hope of a good future, deliberation and freedom through learning and education and examples set by our outstanding honorees is humbling and joyful to know that a spark lit in Toronto four years ago is helping to ignite and unleash brain power in the Caribbean; it keeps us very hopeful,” said Chang.
Chang said Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley is leading a group of specialists to examine the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre on the Mona Campus at UWI. Their aim is “to determine ways of revitalizing and restructuring the centre, which is unique, unique in the sense that who would have expected a centralized network in the Caribbean… and at one time a model that used for other countries…. We also salute the SickKids foundation for the project aimed at improving diagnoses and outcomes for children affected by paediatric cancer and serious blood disorders in the Caribbean.”
Scotiabank has served as the lead chair for the gala’s fourth consecutive year.
Anya Schnoor, Managing Director of Scotiabank Ltd, Trinidad and Tobago said, earlier this year, the bank donated $1 million to the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Project that supports the telemedicine program which serves Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas.
Eight outstanding men and women were honoured for their contributions to the Canadian society. Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay, renowned cardiologist, community leader and philanthropist and Dr. Lennox Lewis, boxing legend received the luminary awards. Recipients of the UWI Vice-Chancellor’s awards were Dr. Upton Allen, physician and Division Head at Sick Kids Hospital, Nicholas Brathwaite, PETNA co-founder, Dr. Mary Anne Chambers, former Ontario Cabinet Minister, Profession Jamal Deen, McMaster University, Douglas Orane, non-Executive Chairman, GraceKennedy Limited and Brigitte Shim, celebrated Canadian architect and UFT professor. The University of Toronto received the Chancellor’s award.
UWI Vice Chancellor, E. Nigel Harris praised the gala organizing team and the Canadian people for their unwavering support. “We recognize our awardees as persons who can serve as role models for our students,” said Professor Harris. “We have over the past few years gotten dozens of awards from CIDA, from IDRC that help us to help the Caribbean. And in this respect I really do want to thank the Canadian government for partnering with us as we move along.”
Ontario’s Lieutenant General, David Onley, who attended the benefit gala joined in congratulating the honorees and scholarship awardees. He said members of the Caribbean community in Canada have made significant contributions to the development of the country. “Without these scholarships, many talented and deserving young people could not achieve their full academic potential,” he added.