JAM | Jun 14, 2023

Women’s Leadership Initiative to mentor COJO scholars 

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Gary Williams (left), chairman and founder, Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO); Michelle McIntosh Harvey, acting CEO, Child Protection & Family Services Agency; Sasha Lee Williams, airport and ground operations supervisor at JetBlue; and Eva Lewis, Women’s Leadership Initiative Mentorship committee chair join in presenting the Suzette Henriques Memorial Scholarship cheque to former ward of the state, Aliea Pollock (second right) at the annual COJO Scholarship Awards luncheon at the AC Marriott Hotel on May 22, 2023. (Photo: Contributed)

The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is to partner with the Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) in providing mentorship for former wards of the state who have received COJO scholarships to local tertiary institutions.

The offer was made by Eva Lewis, WLI mentorship committee chair on May 22, for 14 former wards received their awards at the COJO annual scholarship luncheon at the AC Marriott Hotel, Kingston.

Lewis applauded COJO chairman Gary Williams for “ unprecedented support of Jamaica’s underserved children in state care.” 

For his part, Williams said that “ COJO has been privileged to provide support for these children and we welcome the offer from the WLI to assist them as they transition out of state care and into the world of tertiary education. We have no doubt that the lessons imparted by these ‘big sisters’ will be of tremendous value to them.” 

Lewis further explained that the 19-year-old WLI has as its main mission promotion of sisterhood and the advancement of women and girls while contributing to nation building. 

Founded by former US Ambassador to Jamaica, Sue Cobb in 2004, Lewis explained that “the WLI membership consists of female CEOs, business owners and senior executives of companies in Jamaica who are “top of their game and making sterling contributions in a range of spheres.”

The organisation has over several decades developed and funded mentorship programmes which benefitted several primary, secondary and tertiary students. 

In addition to funding infrastructure, equipment and special needs education at the Voluntary Organization for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH), the WLI has also hosted annual Darkness to Light education workshops on preventing and treating with child sexual abuse.

The “Conversation With Boys” programme of the WLI is a forum for adolescent boys to help with socialising and giving them an opportunity to discuss matters of concern to them including cyber bullying, empathy for other students, peer pressure and the pitfalls of drug and alcohol abuse as well as challenging community and home circumstances. Respect for girls and women is a  constant theme at the annual workshops. 

Addressing the scholarship awardees by name at the luncheon, Lewis said “I am sure I cannot begin to appreciate how different and yes challenging it has been to spend your formative years in less than traditional settings and I surely  won’t attempt to address that for fear of trivialising or making assumptions. Yet with different journeys, different life stories, you are all with us here today because you have been specially chosen to receive these scholarships.” 

“I suggest that none of you have let your past define you. The challenges you’ve faced, the struggles you’ve overcome — they have shaped you into strong resilient individuals who possess unique perspectives and I humbly suggest that these have also helped you remain focused and disciplined as you untap your potential and build futures that reflect your dreams and aspirations… You deserve it. I applaud each and every one of you.” 

“Today, tomorrow and in the months ahead throughout your educational journey and I daresay life, you will encounter moments of doubt and difficulty. Remember, these obstacles are not meant to hinder your progress but to test your resolve and strengthen your character. Try to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and never be afraid to seek support from mentors, teachers, and your peers. Surround yourself with a network of individuals who believe in you and your abilities” Lewis added.

Eva Lewis, chief country officer of Citibank Jamaica. (Photo: Contributed)

Recounting her experience as a mentor, she shared, “My most recent experience has been with a young lady who despite the most tragic and challenging of circumstances has single handedly earned herself a Bachelors and Masters degree from UWI both with first class honours and recently won a Fulbright Scholarship and a place in the PhD programme at the University of Missouri. She starts in August of this year. I think she has taught me more about perseverance, sacrifice and unwavering focus in the short time I have known her than I have seen in all my life.”

“Remember the power of self-belief. Recognise that you belong in those halls of knowledge and that you have earned your place through hard work and dedication. Believe in your own worth and potential, for it is that belief that will fuel your determination to succeed. No matter what doubts or negative voices may come your way, trust in your abilities and keep moving forward with unwavering determination”, she charged the scholarship awardees.

Lewis was steadfast in declaring that education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world – the great leveller and the great equaliser.

“Education has the power to unlock doors, break down barriers, and create a path towards a brighter future. You may have faced countless obstacles on your path so far, but today is about supporting your chance for you to soar above your circumstances and make a difference in your own lives and the lives of those around you,” she mused.

She urged the scholarship awardees, “never forget where you come from and the communities that have supported you along the way. As you progress in your education and career, remember to uplift those who may still be on the same path you once walked. Be a source of inspiration and guidance for others who face similar challenges. Your success can become a beacon of hope for those who follow in your footsteps.”


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