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Interview with Ahmed Bawah

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Community Outreach Coordinator, Youth HYPE Program, Centennial College

Ahmed BawahAhmed is the Youth Outreach Coordinator, with the Community Outreach Office. He coordinates the Helping Youth Pursue Education (HYPE) program at Centennial College. HYPE is a free six-week program geared towards helping young people gain new confidence to return back to school, by helping to overcome the economic and social barriers that may have interfered with school in the past.

This summer, Leisha and I attended a HYPE graduation ceremony. This is always an emotional and uplifting event for relatives, friends and the graduates themselves of course. There was a lot of praise and cheers from, and for, the HYPE team present that day to congratulate the students and present them with their certificates, when the level of energy suddenly spiked with the entrance of Ahmed. As the graduates exploded in a standing ovation, the young person sitting in front of me turned around, and said with a huge smile "This is Ahmed...He is the man. He is the best!" I already knew Ahmed from our Outreach & Engagement Pod meetings, but now I had to know more. This is our interview with him.

CET: Ahmed, thank you for seeing us. Tell us please, how does one become “the man” here?

AB (laughing): I would not know about that, but I do know that I care very much for the HYPE students and all those who come to my office for help or guidance. I believe that being genuine and being able to relate, really relate and connect, is a big part of the job.

CET: So how did you become a HYPE Community Outreach Coordinator?

AB: Well, there is a rather long story to tell, but let’s just say that I have a first-hand understanding of the challenges that life can throw at you, along with a real sense of the value of education in general - and PSE in particular - to help overcome these challenges. I have volunteered as a mentor to youth for many years; I have had amazing mentors myself, who believed in me, guided me and helped me navigate the system. I believe in the “pay it forward” principle, and it is now my turn to give back to my community. 

You see, I was a HYPE graduate myself, not that long ago really, and this Coordinator position really meant going full circle for me. First of all, it was a privilege to be able to work side-by-side with my former mentors and HYPE Coordinator. The people at HYPE believed in me and gave me resources and a platform to help change the course of my life; I am now doing professionally what I always did as a volunteer, and help make a difference in the lives of youth going through what I went through. I believe I am in a good position to talk about the importance of resilience, education, and perseverance.

CET: Let’s go back to the youth we just saw at the last HYPE graduation. How did their welcome make you feel?

AB: I was very moved because it felt very real, and very personal to me. This is what I meant just now: we can have a huge impact on their lives, and I have lost count of the numbers of those I had the chance to help already. I believe my life experience and personality make me, not only empathetic so I can connect, but also credible, so they tend to trust me, listen to my suggestions about how to navigate the system and which direction to consider. This is so important because many of them end-up leaving the program, returning and leaving again sometimes, until they eventually succeed. Just yesterday, a young man came to me to let me know that he had to stop coming, but that he would return and had not forgotten our talk. He was still determined to complete what he had started, even though it would take him longer. This is about encouraging their persistence, resilience and self-esteem; this is how we help.

CET: Last question Ahmed, you are a regular at the CET Pod meetings, what would you have to say about the CET?

AB: I believe the CET is absolutely critical to what we do. The sector of access to PSE can be very compartmentalized, both within and across PSE institutions. The CET is like a bridge that provides a place in which  to reflect and share, and  to connect and access resources to do our jobs better. 

I find that the CET provides a cohesiveness that helps us figure out the strategies we need to help students succeed. My personal philosophy is “team work makes the dream work" this is why I find the CET vital and necessary.

Interview conducted on September 13th, 2016


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