Queen’s Young Leader Abrahim Simmonds making an impact
If you ask him to recall an experience that has touched him deeply during his years of volunteerism, he'll be quick to tell you the story of volunteering at a nursing home in St Mary one summer.
When he was leaving at the end of that summer, one of the residents came up to him and looked into his eyes and started to cry.
"She had a speech impediment and she was not able to tell me how she felt. But her response made me understand, and that stuck with me for a while."
For 23-year-old Abrahim Simmonds, impacting lives is something he has been doing since grade five.
Born and raised in Port Maria, St Mary, the trained social worker recalls starting a drama group at his school back in 2005.
"I was always starting mini clubs and groups in my communities, and my mother was always accommodating. She provided the meals and a safe space for me to bring people together to share," Simmonds said.
With time, his love for volunteerism and effecting change in his community blossomed as well. It's no surprise, therefore, that young Simmonds had an impeccable track record in co-curricular activities while he was a student at St Mary High School. He served as deputy head boy, two-time president of both the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF) and the 4-H Club, Students' Council president, and president of the Jamaica Junior Leaders League.
A REWARDING JOURNEY
His track record extended to the parish and national levels, where he was named an 'I Believe' Initiative ambassador under the Governor General's Programme for Excellence. In 2013, under the same initiative, he was awarded a full scholarship to pursue his bachelor of science in social work at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. This was the start of a rewarding journey.
While a student at the UWI, he got an 'aha moment'.
It was the birth of something revolutionary - the Jamaican Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism (JAYECAN). The organisation, which will turn four in November this year, was established by Simmonds and his friend, Alex Sterling.
"We felt that not a lot of young people were empowered enough to help Jamaica to realise our goals. Empowerment, for us, means learning to identify resources within the person and their environment that can be operationalised to make life easier. We knew there were other groups doing this sort of work, so our ultimate question was 'How will we do this?'" Simmonds explained.
The answer to their question was quickly answered - through the arts, Jamaican culture and a stronger appreciation for nationalism.
But as a first-year student still trying to figure out where his classes were, the cheapest food options on campus and what a practicum meant, Simmonds and his co-founder, Sterling, made things work.
"It never felt like a burden because the work I did with JAYECAN and in practicum all overlapped. It was very draining sometimes and that was only because we never always had the results we wanted, and the capital was not readily available," Simmonds said.
But he further explained that the operations and visibility of JAYECAN improved when more influential individuals started to buy into their practice and endorsed them - including Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). This acted as a huge motivator for himself and his team.
His team, which started with six members, now has more than 40. Additionally, they have an extended membership of more than 200 across the island and are currently getting more individuals to set up clubs in their communities.
Since 2013, through JAYECAN, he was selected as the Caribbean youth representative for the UNESCO Global Alliance on Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL), de facto youth ambassador to the Commonwealth, associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Teen Vybe Magazine 20 under 25 awardee, the Kiwanis Club of Kingston Youth Leader Award, and recently, the Queen's Young Leader awardee.
Simmonds was one of 60 young people from across the Commonwealth who were selected to receive a prestigious Queen's Young Leaders Award. The awards recognise and celebrate exceptional young people, aged 18 to 29, in the Commonwealth who are driving change within their communities and transforming people's lives. He was received by Her Majesty The Queen on June 29, in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace.
For Simmonds, volunteerism in Jamaica is something that he is working on changing the perception of. He believes that in order to achieve this, young people in Jamaica need to be shown that volunteerism can provide a dynamic relationship that has a benefit for both the giver and the recipient.
"We need to get to a place where we are able to demonstrate how people can volunteer to improve lives in higher orders, such as policy reform/development, education and community development. This can add value to a person's professional development as well and simultaneously contribute to the improvement of the lives of other people," Simmonds explained.