UWI Toronto Benefit Awards help students realize their dreams

by Ron Fanfair
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UWI Toronto Benefit Awards have allowed almost 850 students to pursue university studies.

By RON FANFAIR
Most students in the Caribbean aspire to pursue post-secondary education, the majority of them at the 76-year-old University of the West Indies (UWI) whose alumni serve at every level and in every sphere.
The reality is that many of these bright young people will not set foot on a university/college campus or complete their programs because of a lack of financial resources.
While in Jamaica last March to be inducted into the Immaculate Conception High School Hall of Fame, UWI Toronto Benefit Awards Co-Patron Donette Chin-Loy Chang met students preparing for post-secondary education.
“They are excited about their future and they want to go to the University of the West Indies,” she said. “The reality is many will fall by the wayside and do not make it to university because of finances. The question then becomes what percentage will make it to higher education.
“The Caribbean is not poor. However, basic resources are inequitably distributed. A substantial percentage of the population is beneath the poverty line and the emerging middle-class struggle daily, facing insurmountable adversity. Only by the dint of hard work are people able to push through to find a way. Education is seen as a gateway out of poverty.”
Since its inception 15 years ago, the nearly $3 million in funds raised from the annual UWI Toronto Benefit Awards have allowed almost 850 students to pursue university studies at UWI.
“The work we have been doing here has provided a bedrock of hope, a glimmer of life to students whose dreams and aspirations hang in the balance and the chance for them to pull themselves and their families up by the bootstrap,” said Chin-Loy Chang who, with her late husband G. Raymond Chang, started the initiative.
Business executive Kevin Hibbert and his wife Anne-Marie Hibbert are the new Co-Patrons. They attended the event for the first time last year.
“We were troubled by the fact that so many of these young people have to trade off addressing basic food and shelter needs with their desire to further their education,” said Hibbert who was the recipient of a Vice-Chancellor Award in 2023. “Many UWI students come from a vast array of challenging situations that have placed them in dire need of financial and moral support to fulfil their dreams of higher education.”
This year’s event theme was ‘Lighting the Way Together’.
“We can all become that match that lights the flames of curiosity, enabling that burning desire to become something greater,” added Hibbert who is the Chief Financial Officer and Senior Managing Partner at Sprott Inc. “That is why we have joined this remarkable team and event that has touched the lives of many Caribbean students.”
Scotiabank has been the event’s lead sponsor from the inception. The bank has had a presence in the Caribbean since 1899 when it opened a branch in Kingston, Jamaica to serve the export trade.
Since 2019, Scotiabank has funded an additional 15 scholarships amounting to US$45,000 annually.
“The scholarships have been a beacon of hope for many students across the Caribbean, many who live in very challenging communities,” said Audrey Tugwell Henry, the President & Chief Executive Officer of Scotia Group Jamaica Ltd.
Last year, Jamaican-born Anya Schnoor, the Vice-President of Caribbean, Central America, Uruguay and International Banking, announced that the bank is increasing its annual contribution from $75,000 to $100,000 over the next five years, beginning in 2024.
“With this reinforced commitment, we are further strengthening Scotiabank’s purpose to help Caribbean students strive and reach their very highest potential,” added Tugwell Henry who is a UWI graduate.
To reinforce the impact of the scholarships, the UWI Toronto Benefit Awards committee brings a recipient to Toronto to articulate the importance of the funds to their lives and other students.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 2018 from the Mona Campus, Rojae Brown is pursuing a PhD in Competition & Public International Law at the University of Oxford.
Speaking on behalf of UWI scholarship awardees, he said they are extremely grateful for the funds that have allowed them to pursue higher education.
“Many students have not graduated because they can’t afford it,” Brown said. “Many of them didn’t have the helping hand that I got. I got the scholarship eight years ago and it has made a difference. The contributions you make often go unnoticed, but it is something we should never ever take for granted.”
Every year, individuals and organizations making significant contributions in Canada and around the world are honoured. Vice Chancellor’s Awards were presented to Pamela Appelt, Stanley Julien, Deland Kamanga and Claudette McGowan.
Canada’s first Black female Citizenship Court Judge, Appelt is an accomplished painter, art collector and supporter of myriad community organizations.
Coming to Canada in 1965, she was a biochemist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and a researcher in Medical Biochemistry at McGill University in Montreal.
Julien knows the value of scholarships. For five years until 2010, he chaired the Black Business & Professional Association’s (BBPA) Scholarship Fund, overseeing the distribution of over $1 million in scholarships annually to more than 150 Black students across Canada.
As Head of the Special Accounts Management Unit-Canada at the Bank of Montreal, he leads a team dedicated to optimizing economic returns, restructuring distressed businesses and safeguarding and expanding assets within his purview.
Julien’s extensive banking career with BMO over almost three decades includes Regional Vice-President of Commercial Banking, Atlantic Provinces Division and Managing Director with responsibility for Credit Restructuring, Corporate Finance Division.
He also uses his influence within BMO to get financial support for community organizations.
As BMO Wealth Management Group Head, Kamanga leads the strategic direction for a broad range of businesses, including Private Wealth Canada (BMO Nesbitt Burns and BMO Private Banking), U.S. Wealth Management, BMO Global Asset Management, BMO InvestorLine and BMO Insurance.
He is a member of SickKids Board of Trustees, SickKids Foundation and Women in Capital Markets.
McGowan is a global information technology leader with over two decades of success leading digital transformations, optimizing infrastructure and designing new approaches that improve service and cybersecurity. She founded Black Arts & Innovation Exposition in 2015, writes books for children and builds robots in her spare time.
The Chancellor’s Award was presented to Air Canada that has serviced the Caribbean for the last 75 years. Last winter, Canada’s largest airline flew to 28 Caribbean destinations and operated 320 flights weekly.
Retired Judge Hugh Fraser was the recipient of the Luminary Award. He represented Canada at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, served with distinction as a Provincial Court Judge for 25 years and was the technical advisor to the Dubin Commission of Inquiry established after Ben Johnson tested positive for a banned substance after winning the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100-metre dash in a world record 9.79 secs.
Fraser, whose son Mark Fraser played 45 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012-13, chaired Hockey Canada’s Board of Directors for a year and was a Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport Board Director and Sports Federation of Canada and Commonwealth Games Foundation President.
Former PwC Canada Partner and Vice-Chair Raj Kothari was presented with the G. Raymond Chang Award which is presented to an individual whose leadership embodies hard work, empathy and kindness similar to the values and ideals that Chang held.
“Ray truly led the way for so many through his life and his influence continues to shine,” said Kothari who is the Chair of the Toronto General Western Hospital Foundation Board of Governors and a Board member of the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario, a $70 billion pension plan in Canada.
“This award is especially meaningful to me because I have always sought to follow Ray’s example as an immigrant who made a significant impact in the community around him. Even if I could be one-tenth of what Ray was, I think I would have achieved quite a bit.”
Ontario’s Chief Justice Michael Tulloch and federal Minister Marci Ien have supported the fundraiser over the years.
“You made your mark and you pushed, sometimes really hard, to open doors,” the Minister for Women & Gender Equality and Youth told the award winners. “It wasn’t easy, but you did it because you knew it was not just about you, but those coming after you. It is about the next generation.”
Vice-Chancellor Dr. Hilary Beckles congratulated the award winners and acknowledged the UWI Toronto Benefit Awards team and the approximately 6,000 supporters that have attended the event in the last 15 years to help shape the lives of future leaders and their communities across the Caribbean.
“Thank you friends for coming to this urgent call for financial assistance to support yet another cohort of bright, creative and accomplished Caribbean youths who, through no fault of their own, find themselves economically impoverished though intellectually very empowered,” he said.
No regional institution has contributed more to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century than UWI which has produced several current and former Caribbean prime ministers and late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott who graduated from the Mona Campus in 1953.
The late Sir Arthur Lewis, who won a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1979, was a UWI Vice-Chancellor.
UWI has maintained its stellar position as the number one Caribbean university in the 2024 International University rankings. It is also ranked in the top one per cent of about 2,000 Latin American & Caribbean universities and in the top three per cent of the world’s finest universities. In addition, UWI is the lead advocate on climate change in the world.
“We are who we are,” said Beckles. “We are an elite university in this world, but we are not an elitist university. We are here as a public university for the upliftment of the poor and the empowerment of the historically disenfranchised. We are the engine of Caribbean development and the hopes for democratic justice. The challenge we are faced with is how we continue to expand this university to meet the needs of all of the people of the Caribbean without compromising quality enhancing excellence.”
After in-depth internal strategic planning and discussions with regional education stakeholders, UWI has evolved as a multi-lingual institution.
“For the first time, we have now declared that all students entering the university must acquire proficiency in a language other than English before they graduate,” said Beckles. “Our students have a multitude of languages from which they can choose before they go into the world as mobile young people with the world before them.”
The Open Campus is to be rebranded as the Global Campus that will encompass the International School for Development Justice, a new non-profit entrepreneurial income-generating business school.
Centred within the parameters of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it will specifically offer a new product line – SDG focused, postgraduate academic programs delivered in an online format that leverages the excellence and expertise of the traditional Open Campus.
“As from September, we will be enrolling students from all over the world to pursue their master’s program online on the SDG goals to which we are all committed,” said Beckles who is a leading advocate for reparatory justice.
UWI has also expanded the Canada-Caribbean Institute established by Brock University and the University of the West Indies four years ago to connect Canadian and Caribbean scholars.
“Since then, we have had a revolutionary protest from Canadian universities who wanted to know why we chose Brock as our partner,” said Beckles.
He reminded the audience that Major General Isaac Brock, after whom the university is named, served with the 49th Regiment in Barbados and Jamaica before coming to Canada where he died in 1812 while defending this country from a United States invasion.
Toronto Metropolitan, McMaster, Dalhousie and York universities along with the University of Toronto and George Brown College are now part of the joint institute.
“Since the independence era of the 1960s, Canada has been our most reliable development partner and this is the bridge we have to strengthen and expand,” added Beckles who served as an Associate Member of the London University Legacies of Slavery Project and the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for Slavery and Emancipation.
Established in 1948 as the University College of the West Indies in a special relationship with the University of London, UWI’s first cohort comprised 23 male and 10 female students who began their post-secondary journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Malta and Gibraltar.

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