Alumni Profile: Elizabeth Weale '05
Elizabeth Weale knew from a very early age that she wanted to work with kids and help people. She didn’t expect to end up doing it in Africa, but perhaps a letter she wrote during her time at Lower Canada College ignited a spark. She and her classmates were tasked with writing a letter to the Canadian government urging officials to become more involved in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Darfour. One student argued that the way to help was not through letters, but by being there on the ground, working directly with the people. She was deeply affected and vividly remembers telling her friends that one day she would be headed to Africa. The seed had been planted. Eventually Elizabeth enrolled in an international program that sent her to Moshi, Tanzania, for three months where, she says, she has never felt more at home.
Currently living and working in Tanzania, Elizabeth is fluent in Swahili, Spanish and French. She completed internships in rural villages in Ghana and Uganda and, although often the only white person there, she integrated fully into the local way of life. “As much as possible, I wanted to reduce the divide between the locals and me – a mzungu (white outsider) – and believed that the best way would be to live in their homes, eat the same food as them and take part in normal, everyday life.” Her work during those three months confirmed that Africa was where she belonged.
When first in Tanzania, she worked in a nursery school and lived in an orphanage on the weekends. That experience also changed her life. “The kids in the orphanage made Tanzania home to me and I have never felt as attached to children as I did to those kids.” Elizabeth discovered that many of the children were not orphans, but had parents or grandparents and they were there only due to poverty. Her work with the Tanzanians and meetings with local governments and social welfare workers ultimately led her to establish the Simama Family Support group.
Elizabeth’s group helps at-risk families stay together and avoid orphanages. “We want those families to stand on their own feet without outside assistance.” Each family is assigned to a social worker for a year and gets micro-business training with the possibility of a loan, parenting classes, and access to literacy and numeracy training. The children are given school uniforms, books and after-school tutoring. There’s daycare for the littlest ones so parents are available to work.
What did LCC do to foster this compassion? Elizabeth says she was an introverted girl, but the teachers did a great job of making her feel accepted. She points to the community service hours required of the students as being an important part of her time at LCC. Giving back to society was always promoted and students were exposed to global issues and encouraged to explore them. She also loved Shourawe, the spirit games between ‘houses’ where students engage in invigorating competition.
Elizabeth was involved in the choir and school musicals, and credits her math teacher, Doug Neal, for helping her enjoy math when it wasn’t her strong suit.
When she moved on to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Elizabeth discovered that the level of education she received in her final years at LCC was equivalent to the first year of the university’s demanding curriculum, in which she excelled.
In both secondary school and university, Elizabeth volunteered as a lifeguard, for a Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, a special needs camp for children, and in a nursing home during one of her summers in New Brunswick. “Whatever speaks to you should become your cause,” she says.
Her words to current LCC students speak loudly and clearly of the woman she has become. “We can all make a difference and be of service. It is important to surround yourself with people who are different from you, with diverse backgrounds, races, cultures and levels of wealth. For me, purposely seeking out those types of friendships and experiences has been life-changing. I’ve learned an incredible amount from the Africans I work with and I wouldn’t be who I am without them. I believe that is how we come to realize that we are all connected.”
For more information about the Simama Family Support group, please go to www.simamafamilysupport.com