University of Ottawa student selected for Jamaican internship
April 13, 2019
Presented with a referral from a satisfied participant, Sapphira Thompson-Bled turned the recommendation into an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The University of Ottawa graduating student will spend six weeks in Jamaica this summer participating in the GraceKennedy internship program.
The birthright program was launched in 2004 to help broaden the horizons of second and third generation Jamaican university students living in Canada, the United States and England. It allows participants’ identification with the Caribbean country to go beyond a superficial level through popular culture, food and religion.
Thompson-Bled was introduced to the program by Carleton University student Keean Nembhard who was the Canadian representative last year. They are Senate Pages.
“He told me he had a great time and suggested I would benefit from the program,” she said.
There were seven candidates for the only slot available for a Canadian student. There are two representatives each from the United States and England.
Crystal-Gayle Williams, the GraceKennedy Foundation project officer, said Thompson-Bled stood out during the interview process.
“Sapphira came well prepared and was very knowledgeable about the program and GraceKennedy,” she said. “She was very polite and her strong leadership qualities combined with her community engagement certainly resonated with the interviewers.”
Thompson-Bled’s father migrated from Jamaica at a young age while her mother was born in Ottawa to immigrants from Jamaica and France.
Though she has been to Negril to visit family on several occasions, this will be her first trip to Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.
“I have never spent more than two weeks on the island,” Thompson-Bled pointed out. “I am looking forward to the extended stay and the opportunity to learn more about my Jamaican heritage. I love the food and the culture, but I know there’s much more to Jamaica than that.”
The program runs from June 26 to August 7.
An honour roll student since Grade Eight at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School where she received the highest music grade in 2009, Thompson-Bled was quite active in her school and the wider community.
She mentored students, represented her school at the Central Ontario (COL) Leadership seminar dedicated to the recognition and development in Grade Ten high school students and was a member of the volleyball and lacrosse teams.
In Grade 11, she was part of her school delegation that went on a solidarity trip to Bolivia that provided them with an educational, transformational and engaging international social justice experience.
On her return, Thompson-Bled – who volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the Brampton Library Reading Buddy program – helped organize a book drive for Jamaica.
“We worked in collaboration with the Jamaican High Commission in Ottawa and the consul general office in Toronto to send over 500 books to the Jamaican Ministry of Education for disbursement to students across the country,” the certified junior lifeguard said. “The books were donated by the school and some of our students.”
Enrolled in the University of Ottawa’s Political Science program, Thompson-Bled switched to International Studies & Modern Languages after the first year.
“I find Political Science to be too much theoretically based,” she said. “I am passionate about International Studies and I am bilingual and learning Spanish.”
Thompson-Bled, who volunteers at the Montfort and the Elisabeth Bruyere hospitals in Ottawa, plans to learn German and pursue graduate studies at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.
“After that, I intend to study International Law and I am leaning towards doing that in England and working there because most of the international courts are in Europe,” the fourth-year university student said.
One of four siblings, Thompson-Bled relishes the opportunity attend university in Ottawa which is the seat of Canadian government.
“With an interest in Politics, there is no better place to be than there,” said the former Appleby College camp instructor who was a student administrative assistant for five months with Indigenous & Northern Affairs Canada. “I have had the opportunity to work for the federal government and that has helped me in my pursuit of an undergraduate degree. I have volunteered for Members of Parliament and am now serving as a Page. In this position, I get to see how parliamentary procedures work and make connections with Senators and their staff. I wouldn’t have had those opportunities if I wasn’t in Ottawa.”
Assigned to GraceKennedy’s business unit, the birthright program participants will take part in cultural tours and excursions and engage in volunteer activities on weekends.
“They will also attend events such as Reggae Sumfest and the Independence Day Grand Gala and pay courtesy calls on government ministers,” said Williams.
GraceKennedy launched the internship program to help students in the Diaspora enhance their professional skills while reconnecting with their heritage.
Douglas Orane, the company’s former chief executive officer and board director, conceived the idea for the program while helping a family member, who was attending an American university at the time, fulfill his dream of scaling Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain.
“By investing in this program, GraceKennedy is strengthening its connection and that of Jamaica with the Diaspora,” Williams added. “An investment in Jamaica is an investment in GraceKennedy as a Jamaican company. The internship also introduces the candidates to our business acumen while enabling them to learn more about the company’s diversified focus.”
The selection panel comprised Jamaica’s consul in Toronto Nicole Johnson, GraceKennedy Foundation executive director Caroline Mahfood and birthright ambassador Jamaal Myers who was in the program 13 years ago.
“All of the candidates we interviewed were impressive, but Sapphira is exceptional,” said Myers who was the birthright program first Canadian male representative. “She has such great energy, she is very accomplished and she has a global perspective.”