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A Class of 2020 Graduate Helping Fellow Youth Get Through Online Learning

1 December 2020

Rebeccah Raphael left Pearson College UWC in March 2020, a few months ahead of her graduation and in the midst of the pandemic, accompanied by all the stress and sudden changes that will be familiar to all young people whose education was affected by COVID-19. She came home to Nova Scotia, Canada, where she recognised that the local children were also faced with similar disruptions, but without an adequate support network to adjust to the challenges of online learning. 

Rebeccah sprung into action almost immediately. She launched The Halifax Helpers that same month: a volunteer-run organisation geared at tutoring school children who were stuck at home because of school closures. As tutors, she recruited fellow UWCers and within a couple weeks was teaching 300 sessions a week with 50+ tutors. The Halifax Helpers has since branched out to make connections with the school boards of Nova Scotia and a refugee support organisation to further increase their outreach. In this interview, Rebeccah talks us through the early days of the project and the key learnings she will carry with her from the project into 2021. 

Where are you from and how did you end up at UWC?

I'm from Halifax Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada, and I ended up at UWC because I wanted to get the most out of my education.

What inspired the idea for Halifax Helpers? And what empowered you to put it into action so soon after you graduated?

After I got home from Pearson in March I saw that a lot of my community members were finding it difficult to adjust to online learning. I also knew that there were many youth, including myself, who were looking for ways to help, especially now that many of us were stuck in our homes. The need from my community and the want of my community members to give back essentially created the perfect storm for The Halifax Helpers to come to life.

In terms of what then empowered me to push the idea forward, I think being at Pearson taught me how to have confidence in the projects I wish to execute and to actively create solutions instead of waiting for them to come to me. And then it also helped that the majority of our volunteers at the start of the project were students or graduates of UWC. Their drive, passion, and willingness to learn was incredibly helpful in ensuring the success of this project.

Can you tell me about where Halifax Helpers is at now? 

On 1 October we reopened our site for the first time since the Spring. Although schools are back open in Nova Scotia, we have still found that there are a lot of children out there who need extra support. We currently have 35 tutors and are adding new helpers weekly. Right now our main goal is to make connections with the school boards in Nova Scotia in order to maximize our outreach. We've also added a new section to our website that offers English tutoring to Second Language speakers, and we are in contact with a refugee support organisation in Kentucky who we plan on partnering with so we can offer ESL lessons to the people they support.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work, and what keeps you going through it all? 

The biggest challenges we face are in regards to our Outreach. I know there are so many students who could use this service, and it's difficult to find ways in which we can reach them all. However, everytime we make a new connection, be it through a partnership or a student, my love for the project grows. Hearing about how others have used our service to increase their confidence in the material they're learning helps remind me that we are making an impact.

But the thing that keeps me going the most is knowing that I have such a passionate team behind me. All the hard work they do reminds me that whenever I face a challenge I'm not in it alone. If I needed any extra support I know I could reach out to the group and would automatically have people ready to help. They are so amazing.

The amazing tutors of The Halifax Helpers reunited on a web call.
 The amazing tutors of The Halifax Helpers reunited on a web call.

Big question to end: What key learnings will you take away from this year in terms of how our world can meet the challenges of tomorrow? 

I think the biggest thing I've taken away from this project is the impact that we can make as youth. You are never too young to create a solution to a problem. Our youth are so passionate, kind-hearted, and hard-working that they can do anything. I think that more youth need to be taught how powerful they are and that they don't need to wait for someone to give them the green light in order for them to get out there and make a difference. Once we've figured out how to harness the complete energy of our youth I believe we will see some of the most influential and important innovations of our lifetime.