Summer camp with a purpose

- July 26, 2018

PLANS camp students. Front (L-R): Andrea Oguntade, Taylor Murphy, Mary Lukindo. Back (L-R): Tristan McNamara-Wright, Ifesinachi Chiekwe, Tahirah Campbell, Precious Fagbile. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
PLANS camp students. Front (L-R): Andrea Oguntade, Taylor Murphy, Mary Lukindo. Back (L-R): Tristan McNamara-Wright, Ifesinachi Chiekwe, Tahirah Campbell, Precious Fagbile. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

Tahirah Campbell is excited to enter Dalhousie University this fall after taking two preparatory camps for African Nova Scotian teens.

The 17-year-old Halifax West graduate, who came to Halifax from Jamaica two years ago, heard about the camps from her African Nova Scotian support worker at high school.

Last summer, Campbell took part in the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp at Dalhousie, which introduces junior and senior high school learners to the many potential careers available to them in the health field. This summer she attended the next level of program, the PLANS Prep Institute, which prepares students in grades 10, 11 and 12 to apply to postsecondary health science programs.

Both camps are run through Dalhousie University’s PLANS (Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians) initiative, with funding from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

See also: Dalhousie expands health sciences summer camps for African Nova Scotian youth

PLANS to succeed

The first PLANS summer camp was launched at Dalhousie in 2014, with start-up funding from the Government of Nova Scotia. It has since expanded to reach more African Nova Scotian youth across the province with camps held at St. Francis Xavier University and Cape Breton University.

 “I wasn’t aware of what I had to do to get into university,” says Campbell, “and I had so many questions that needed to be answered.”

She got her answers, with loads of information on various career options, plus tips on time management, note-taking and goal-setting. She also had a lot of fun. “It was amazing. When I first came here I wasn’t talkative but I made a bunch of friends.” 

Some of those friends will be starting at Dalhousie at the same time as Campbell, who is enrolled in the therapeutic recreation BSc. program in the Faculty of Health. She is also interested in becoming a nurse practitioner.

She fell in love with Dalhousie one day when her father was driving her downtown and she caught sight of the campus. “It was like a fairytale university. It was gigantic. It was so whimsical and beautiful.”

Campbell loves to read, volunteers at the Halifax Jazz Festival and has two part-time jobs — one as a nail technician, the other as a hostess at Smitty’s Family Restaurant.

She has been recruiting her friends for the PLANS health sciences and university prep camps. “I'd recommend it 100 per cent,” she says. “Everyone is so friendly and you learn so much.”

Making strides

There were 20 participants at this July’s PLANS Prep Institute, in its second year at Dalhousie, says Michelle Patrick, program manager of PLANS in Dalhousie’s Global Health Office.

Half of the 20 had previously attended the health science camp for grades 8, 9, 10 and 11. Seven of the 20 were high school graduates; of these, five will begin studies this fall at Dal, while the others are still exploring their many postsecondary options.

“It’s a win for us to see students going on to postsecondary education,” says Patrick. “It has been great to connect with Tahirah and other PLANS camp alumni throughout the year to provide support as they are applying for university.”

As Patrick notes, the growth and success of the summer camp since 2014 has been important for PLANS, Dalhousie, the African Nova Scotian community and other key stakeholders, including government.

“Thanks to the summer camps and other PLANS initiatives, we’re making strides in attracting young people from our African Nova Scotia communities to pursue careers in the health professions,” she says. “We’re seeing a real shift… for example, in the past two years, Dalhousie Medical School has graduated 12 African-descended medical doctors, a true milestone!”

African Nova Scotian students who are interested in PLANS programs can find more information at


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