Master of Laws student Nenyo Kwasitsu of Ghana arrived at Dal last fall with a scholarship, fellowship and well-honed research topic in hand.
But it was what she had to leave behind at home — namely, her friends and family — that kept nagging at her.
Thankfully, a chance encounter with a fellow international student early in the term led Nenyo to an opportunity to attend a meeting of Sister2Sister (S2S) — a program on campus that provides a safe space for racialized and Indigenous female-identified students.
“Ah, man, I was home,” she says of her experience at the meeting. “There are so many women here, some like me and some Indigenous, and they are all talking about finding their place in this place.”
Created in 2015 by Shakira Weatherdon, education advisor with Dalhousie Human Rights and Equity Services (HRES), the S2S program now has about 250 active members. That community was just what Nenyo needed to bring her life back into balance.
“It’s about community, it’s about a culturally safe space and about just being able to speak to people who get you,” says the 29-year-old student.
Giving back to community
The program also presented Nenyo with the opportunity to give back to the community by serving as a leader and mentor to racialized and Indigenous high school girls in Halifax. Last month, she joined Weatherdon and other S2S women to provide a morning of leadership training for 40 students. The event included professional and academic goal-setting workshops, self-care sessions and even a spoken-word session.
Nenyo recalls one girl in particular telling her matter-of-factly that she would not be going to university because she was too broke. Kwasitsu mentioned to the teen that she was at Dal on scholarship and that that could happen for her, too.
By the end of the meeting, the student had changed her tune, suggesting she wanted to be a lawyer — Kwasitsu’s field.
“I can’t wait to see where she goes,” Nenyo says. “These students just need to see an example.”
Nenyo says she was lucky growing up in that she didn’t need to look far for a role model. Her mother provided ample encouragement and inspiration, having been the first woman in her small Ghanian village to go to university.
While her mother trained as an agriculturalist and worked with the government, Nenyo felt drawn to social issues. She completed an undergraduate degree in sociology and French and then a law degree before taking a job with Perfector of Sentiment foundation — an NGO dedicated to youth development and human rights.
It was there that Nenyo took an interest in a particular campaign aimed at addressing reform of the Ghanian prison system. In particular, she became passionate about helping support the many prisoners in the country on remand — that period after a person’s arrest but before trial.
“It has led to high rates of incarceration in my country,” she says, noting that people in Ghana can spend long periods of time in remand. “I thought it was a problem that I could help fix.”
And that’s just what she’s hoping to do with the results of her thesis research at Dal.
Kwasitsu says she’s come a long way since those first days in Halifax. She refers to her two supervisors — Adelina Iftene and Archie Kaiser — as the “dream team” and credits a scholarship from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia and the Dean Ronald St. John MacDonald fellowship for turning her dream into a reality.
But without Sisters2Sister, she may not have found the community she so craved or the opportunity to be a mentor in her own right.
“When you are going through something, you think it is just you,” she says. “It was validating to hear that I really wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.”
International Women's Day is held on March 8 every year as a way to celebrate progress and leadership toward equality for women, reflect on the challenges and barriers that remain, and to consider future steps to achieving equality for all. Visit HRES online for a list of activities happening on campus and off this year to mark the occasion.
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