Note to the reader: In a week that felt fraught with global uncertainty and divisive politics, it was wonderful to come together as a school community to celebrate the launch of our new Head of School initiative. Little did we know when we planned this launch that it would provide much needed respite from the negativity that surrounds us, and act as a rallying cry for our girls as they commit to making Trafalgar Castle School an inclusive and welcoming place that values diversity. Below is the story of A World of Difference, our commitment to creating opportunity for girls around the world.
It was spring of 2015 when I was named Head of School at Trafalgar Castle School. A friend and valued mentor took me out for lunch to celebrate my new role. After she congratulated me, she said, “So you’re a Head of School. Now what are you going to do?” Not sure what she meant, I asked her to clarify. “How can you make a difference?” she asked. “How will you give back? That’s what this job should be about.” As I sat pondering those powerful questions, she added, “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
A month later, I was introduced to Narmin Ismail, CEO and Founder of Spark of Hope Foundation. Narmin described the remarkable work her foundation does to help young women from developing and often war-torn countries access post-secondary studies. She explained that empowering young women who demonstrate exceptional academic and leadership potential, particularly those from countries in turmoil, has the ability to lift entire families out of poverty and strengthen whole communities by igniting a spark of hope.
I remember the moment when Narmin looked at me and explained, “We’re doing all we can to help these girls access university. But we need to get to them sooner. Many of them simply can’t wait.” And at that very moment, an idea was born.
A World of Difference is Trafalgar Castle School’s way to get to these girls sooner – to help them keep their studies going or, in some cases, to restart studies that have been interrupted because of war or civil unrest. Our school community is committing to work with Spark of Hope to identify a young girl from a developing country whose leadership potential and desire to learn shines through, despite the adversity of her circumstances. We will invite this young girl to join us at Trafalgar for her grade 11 and 12 year, so that we can prepare her for university studies. When she’s ready to leave us, Spark of Hope will be there to ensure that her studies continue, and that she receives the education and training necessary to make a world of difference in her home community.
We announced the launch of World of Difference this week. Humbled and proud do not begin to describe the emotions I feel as I see the outpouring of enthusiasm and support from the entire Trafalgar Castle School community – students, families, staff, alumnae – so many people who are rallying round this initiative. Support is even being offered from our local communities of Whitby and Durham Region, and that says to me that Canadians, far and wide, believe we can make a world of difference in the life of a young girl.
Unlike the much-needed refugee sponsorship programs taking place across Canada right now, our plan is not to bring a student to Canada to stay permanently. Nor are we looking to sponsor a family. We believe there are incredible young women living in developing countries who want to make a difference in their own communities. What they need is not a new country – although the horror of Syria shows that many families do. The girls we are looking to support need a way to develop leadership skills, to continue their education, and to strengthen their abilities to help their home communities. Where they can’t return home because of war or civil unrest, we believe they can make a world of difference from afar.
We are starting slowly and carefully, determined to get it right, and are inviting one young girl to join our Trafalgar Castle community for September 2017. The school is donating the full cost of tuition and boarding for two years, and our community is working to raise the rest of the funds needed. We want to be prepared to meet any needs that arise, the ones we can anticipate – travel, winter clothing, medical insurance, textbooks, computer, school trips, uniform, living expenses – and others, such as extra tutoring or counseling support to help with the transition.
Our goal is $80,000 – an amount we hope to surpass so that our initiative can grow to support more girls in future years . We are excited by what we are able to give –university preparation and the opportunity to help a community. But we are equally excited by what we will receive – the chance to learn from a remarkable and intrepid young girl, the opportunity to understand the complex challenges faced by communities less fortunate, and the gift of getting to know a family living far away, who has entrusted their daughter to our care, knowing that together, we can make a World of Difference.