By Lij Tafari Smith | IG: @lijitimate
I joined Shashamane Sunrise with an uncertain mindset—I figured, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I had always known I wanted to be part of an initiative centered on the greater good, one that was selfless. But I was so used to working by myself. I was hesitant to join a team of people I’d never met or even seen before. With much encouragement, and after meeting two Shash volunteers in person, I decided to become one myself in August 2016.
Through group chats and social media, I carefully observed the energies and patterns of the organization and its volunteers. Before I knew it, I began to feel more at home. One morning in October, a message popped up that read, “Hey guys. Any volunteers up for the ICWI Pink Run this Sunday?” Breast cancer is an issue that is very dear to me—I know three survivors. It was a cause I couldn’t ignore, and it was there that my on-the-ground involvement in Shash began. Though I didn’t have the privilege of running with the team—mainly because they were fit and I was well… not—I finished the race and greeted the members who were present. We looked at the results together and of course Dr. Z gave me a hard time because my name was almost at the bottom of the list. (Apparently he’s never heard that nice guys finish last!) What has stayed with me since then were the countless calls from Dr. Z—he wanted to let me know that he stopped so I could catch up to him. I never did catch up, but I learned the importance of teamwork and of leaving no one behind. The day ended with Dr. Z doing his version of the “Champion” dance and attempting 40 pushups, much to our embarrassment.
My second trip with Shash was a visit to Windsor Forest Primary School in Portland. Upon our arrival, the children were delighted to see the Shash team. The love was felt and reciprocated. It was Career Day for the students, and we had a rap session that exposed them to our own careers and interests. As a journalist and television host, I encouraged them to take pride in their physical, mental, and social wellness. I implored them to treat every schoolmate with respect. There’s always the possibility that they will work with or even need the assistance of one another in the future. Toward the end of the day, we assured us we’d be back soon, and our promise was surely kept.
Later, the same Grade 6 cohort whom we’d offered advice gave the Shash team a huge gift. It wasn’t physical; it was ten times better. They were all placed in high-performing high schools. We were proud. We marveled at the results as we made our way to the small community for their graduation. As a token of our appreciation and our pride, we awarded them with individual trophies and school supplies. In an undeniably surreal moment, I presented the Lij T. Smith Communication Task Trophy to the top student in that area. It was also wonderful to see the other volunteers giving back. We celebrated Windsor Forest and Shash in fine style, attempting to swim and surf at Boston Beach.
My Shash experience over the past year has been fulfilling. At times, I look back and laugh at the fact that I was ever skeptical. Now, as a Youth Ambassador, I’m overjoyed knowing there are others interested in becoming a part of the Shash team. This year has definitely taught me to take a leap of faith and jump outside my comfort zone—the result can be beautiful. The saying goes, “You must adventure to find out where you belong.” That I did, and I now know where home is.
Lij Tafari Smith is a Jamaican TV Personality, journalist, and Shashamane Sunrise Youth Ambassador.