I know, without a doubt, that each of us has something of value to contribute in helping to make the world a better place. I am also convinced that education is a key for opening doors to opportunities that can lead to success in life.
I learned these truths as a child in elementary school in Jamaica, when I would spend my summer vacation teaching children, some older than I was, to read and write and do simple arithmetic. These were children who were too poor to attend regular school. They lived in areas that Bob Marley sang about. They would greet me and the nuns from my school with huge smiles and the warmest hugs when we arrived. I had a similar experience, minus the hugs and huge smiles, when as an adult, I would teach men in factories at the end of their work day as part of JAMAL, the Jamaican government’s adult literacy program. The difference between the men and the children was the obvious embarrassment that at this stage in their lives, they were relying on others to tell them the news of the day and to help them to do simple but important financial calculations. Sometimes the people they were relying on might not actually have their best interests at heart.
I am particularly proud of students at the University of Toronto Scarborough who as mentors in the IMANI academic mentorship program so generously share their time, knowledge, and experience with middle and high school students in East Scarborough. They are true role models for their young mentees who have the potential to excel but might need others to help them believe in themselves, another simple yet critical factor in achieving success in life. I am grateful to the families of the mentees for entrusting these youth to strangers who care. Rather than losing interest in school, many of these girls and boys are being given the chance to be the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education whether as apprentices in the skilled trades, or through programs offered by colleges or universities. I am also grateful to the teachers and guidance counsellors who recognize that sometimes their students might need more than what they can provide in the classroom. They know it really does take a village to raise a child.
The university provides an appropriate setting for this kind of experience. Some call this experiential learning. Mentors have told me that they gain as much as the mentees from the program.
The IMANI academic mentorship program and other experiential learning initiatives also illustrate the value that institutions like universities and colleges can provide to the communities in which they are located.
Mary Anne Chambers's experience spans the worlds of business, government, and community service. She has been recognized with an Order of Ontario, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, and four honorary doctorates. She lives in Thornhill, Ontario. From the Heart is her first book.