By Wendy Fitzwilliam | IG: @wendyfitzwilliam
My first encounter with Shashamane Sunrise was in Trinidad & Tobago in 2009. Shash had organized a Career Day at the National Academy for the Performing Arts and had asked me to come in and speak to the young kids from the various schools that participated, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After that Dr. Z wanted to recruit me to be an AMBASSADOR, so we had another meeting here in Port of Spain, and I thought to myself: this is an organization I’d like to work with, not only because it does good work like so many NGO’s do, but also because I love that Shash involves all of its members—whether volunteers, or members—in every capacity, very thoughtfully.
As a Shash AMBASSADOR, my first trip was a recruitment exercise with fellow ambassadors Wayna and Tony Rebel at Yale, Columbia University, and NYU. We endeavored to recruit young volunteers to get involved with Shash programs. It was delightful, well organized, and the team got on very well. I loved the thoroughness and the stickiness of the work of Shashamane Sunrise. Getting young students at these Ivy Leagues involved provided a certain level of continuity in the Shash’s work and an expertise that could be shared with the schools that Shashamane supports. From the beginning, I loved the organization, the enthusiasm of the young volunteers and my fellow ambassadors, the vision of Shashamane, and the manner in which Dr. Z was executing that vision.
So, why Shash? I love that the organization chooses particularly remote schools that are often overlooked by governments and other NGO’s. I love the complete system that is Shashamane Sunrise, from fundraising to curriculum preparation, to execution, to school visits by ambassadors. The organization works so closely with our young people and is constantly encouraging and recruiting more to participate. I love the economics of that kind of giving—it’s killing two birds with one stone. Shash is servicing and providing support to the kids of the remote schools that Shash supports throughout the Caribbean and Africa, and, at the same time, ambassadors like myself are giving guidance to the young men and women who volunteer with the organization. They’re all very bright and want to give back. In terms of the future as a people, period, we’re preparing both those who receive the services Shash provides and those who execute them. We’re giving our young people an opportunity to care for each other and be more aware of the needs of their fellow man. That’s what I love about Shashamane. It’s not always grand—it’s an amalgam of very simple activities and events that change the lives of young people.
After my first trip to the Northeast, I later did service visits to Haiti, Trinidad and Jamaica for school visits and Shash’s annual Fashion Meets Music fundraising event. Haiti visit was one of those trips I’ll never forget, one that will forever have a lasting, positive impact on me. We visited the Marion School in a remote village almost forgotten by Haiti. The commitment of the staff and the enthusiasm of the community around this school made it almost impossible not to want to do more, give more, to the school and the community. The principal’s thirst for a better way of life and quality education for the young people of Marion spoke volumes.
Click here for clips from Wendy’s Haiti service tour: https://youtu.be/2wSM-og976s
We then visited the Windsor Forest Primary School in Jamaica. What a difference Shash is making in partnership with the administrative staff of Windsor Forest! It was wonderful to see how a little bit of care, attention, and enthusiasm could have such a positive impact across the board. The students of Windsor Forest were very well behaved, delightful kids who had opinions about everything and were not afraid to speak their minds. Shashamane provided them exposure to any and every imaginable career, allowing them to aspire to their greatest potential. I also had the opportunity to visit the National Baptist Basic School in Trench Town, the early home of Bob Marley. The school was an oasis in the concrete jungle in this famed inner-city community. Again, the kids were full of energy, enthusiastic and so willing to learn.
Wendy’s visit to the National Baptist Basic School in Trench Town: https://youtu.be/_Jh11IMHhHM
The confidence the children gained through the chats with ambassadors and volunteers in both formal forums and in one-on-one interactions is a testament to the effectiveness of the program. I love the very hands on nature of the work I do with Shashamane, but I also love the thought behind the organization, and the purpose of doing this work. It’s not about only feeling good today—Dr. Z and his team think through the questions, “How will this encounter positively impact this person ten years from now, twenty years from now? How can we make sure it’s not fleeting?” Shash shows up consistently; the organization is involved with the institutions with whom they work. And that’s the magic, I think, of Shashamane Sunrise.
Wendy Fitzwilliam is Miss Universe 1998, an attorney, entrepreneur, philanthropist, mother, author, and Shashamane Sunrise Global AMBASSADOR.