It took me my twenties to realize the only thing that was stopping me was belief in myself - Ayako Turnbull
I never knew my calling was a Jamaican inner-city by a garbage dump, until fourteen years later.
I am just beginning to embark on an exciting new endeavor in the non-profit world. Yet, my heart knew this was my true path fourteen years ago. I was sixteen years old, it was summer break and I was volunteering in Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston. I spent that summer in an inner-city community called Riverton. Riverton is one of Jamaica’s most impoverished communities; built up along the edges of the Kingston landfill. I saw children, just younger than me, not having the opportunities that I took for grated. And it greatly impacted me. I traveled down to Jamaica two more times and raised around $10,000 in my youth.
I raised the funds through trial and error - hosting pub nights, asking friends and family and then linking up with Langara College’s Student Union group, the International Development Committee. This Vancouver college, and I’m sure many others around Canada, have a development committee that collects funds as part of the student fees. I was able to secure some of the funds to be donated to Riverton and from then on, they’ve been a fantastic long-term supporter of the Riverton School. Also, my experience fundraising for Students for a Free Tibet Canada, gave me the confidence to ask without guilt. Through this commitment to Jamaica, I was fortunate enough to remain close with the principal of the school and be one of the first and only foreigners to homestay within this community.
But soon the “real world” of going to post secondary, getting engaged and Vancouver life took hold. I thought the only way to help was by getting a degree. Though I did enjoy studying Political Science, Sociology and International Development courses at Langara and eventually, UBC, I knew it wasn’t for me. I always yearned to be out in the world interacting with those I read so much about. So, with a failed engagement in 2008 and a feeling of lost direction, I dropped out.
Between 2008-2013 I had to learn some life lessons the hard way, which made me lose touch with Jamaica. I let my own personal issue of lacking self-confidence lead to substance abuse, and it began to take precedent over helping others. I partied much too hard and I recklessly bumbled my way through Latin America for almost a year. Looking back on it now,
I don’t regret anything, for it is said, “I may not have gone where
I intended to go. But I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
I have emerged out of my darkest years, full of light. I am stronger and more focused than ever before.
As if to test this strength, my new job as a travel agent saw me flying down to Jamaica for a conference. It was as though the Universe was waving its hands in front of me, saying, ‘Hey! You’re ready for this. Now, get back on track and help these guys!’ In just a few weeks I raised almost $8000 to take down with me to donate. I didn’t just want to ask for a hand out in donations from friends, so I created a fun event: “The Ja’mazin Race”, which was a bar-hopping scavenger hunt around Vancouver with a silent auction that raised almost $3000. I was then able to get Langara College’s Student Union to donate another $5000. I visited Riverton again, staying with a local family, and distribute the funds.
After that trip, the hamster in my head really started moving. I realized that I could utilize the compassionate social network I had developed to increase these efforts. Within a few months I incorporated a non-profit called Fundamentals for Change Society. As the President and Founder, my organization’s goal is to promote development in impoverished Jamaican communities, through fun and innovative programs with the use of play, education and community empowerment. In just six months we’ve raised almost $10,000 and have begun building a playground for a school.
I also want to give people from the West an opportunity to experience what first lit my fire at the age of sixteen; volunteering abroad. I am in the process of creating a volunteer vacation tour company to enable opportunities for others to give their holidays purpose. I believe giving the gift of bridging cultures and seeing the potential brimming in all children allows others to see the potential that is brimming within themselves.
And maybe, just maybe, it might save you fourteen years.
Ayako Turnbull is the President and Founder of Fundamentals for Change Society. She has studied the social sciences at UBC, sat on the Board of Directors for Students for a Free Tibet Canada and volunteered as a mentor to native youth in government care, through the Urban Native Youth Associations Kinnections Mentorship Program. Ayako has recently quit her job at Flight Centre to pursue FFC's goals on a more full-time basis. For more information about her organization and ways to contribute, visit www.fundamentalsforchange.org // @ffcjamaica .