“That’s how I bribe the students to come see me,” Jordan D’Souza jokes, referring to a jar of jellybeans he keeps on his office desk. D’Souza is the Athletics RAVE coordinator here at Ryerson. He also serves as Chair on the Ryerson World University Service of Canada (WUSC) committee, where he contributes in high-level decision making to find solutions to forced migration, international development sustainability, international education opportunities, and global youth employment. Most recently, he has been awarded the New World Award 2016 for Student Leadership in International Education from the Canadian Bureau of International Educators (CBIE), a nation-wide recognition of a Canadian student who positively contributes towards campus internationalization.
I had the opportunity to meet with Jordan to learn more about his journey and activism in international development.
Jordan grew up in Orillia, a small town in Ontario which he describes as, “Very community-oriented; nobody really had a lot, but everybody had their community.” He cites returning home from a school building trip to Kenya in 2012 as a moment of revelation where he knew he wanted dedicate his life to helping others.
What specifically about your trip to Kenya stood out to you?
When I went there I was so amazed by how happy these children were in the direst of circumstances, the absolute most poverty you could ever see. They were also the happiest people you could ever see. People who had nothing, but would give you everything they had.
The biggest culture shock wasn’t going to Kenya, it was coming home. I saw my mom and dad run water and waste food. It was like, “What are you doing?!” It was coming back to what I had already known, but feeling weird and not feeling that sense of community that I felt in Kenya. We felt the love around us, but when we came home – even though I grew up in a very communal town – it’s still Canada and a bit more individualistic.
To combat this feeling, Jordan began volunteering at a local food bank cleaning bathrooms and washing the floors. In just under two years, he moved up the organization and became part of the Board of Directors. Hoping to extend his activism as an International Development Professional, Jordan packed his bags and moved to Toronto to explore new opportunities.
Moving to the 6ix
Jordan quickly settled into life in Toronto by participating in extra-curricular activities and befriending many international students. “Ultimately, I knew a lot of my friends had it a lot worse than I did. I could go home whenever I wanted. [Having been] through it myself, that’s where I lend my support by helping to provide that community when they’re here.”
D’Souza hopes to approach his career working in charity with a different perspective than most people who tend to enter into charity from an arts background. “I take my [Business Management] degree with a grain of salt,” he admits. “I take valuable information away from it, but I also push aside things that I don’t necessarily believe in business-wise. My major allows me to specialize in cross-cultural business decisions and [teaches me] how to understand people.”
From volunteering with a more hands-on approach to being involved in high-level decision making, D’Souza emphasizes to me the importance of remaining humble. “Even when I was on the Board of Directors, I made sure that I was [still] lifting boxes and things like that. I didn’t want to lose that sense of humility and my connection to the people that I was working for.” In just a short period of time, D’Souza created what he calls “a sense of pocketed community” within a populated city such as Toronto.
How are you able to balance everything that you do?
Honestly, it’s just time management; not procrastinating and not wasting time. Believe it or not, I have lots of time for myself just by being on top of things. My father’s the same way; it’s very cyclical. I really hate sitting around. If I’m sitting around for too long, I start to get cabin fever. When you keep yourself busy and work on something productive, things just click together.
Supporting International Students
Jordan volunteers in a program with WUSC, a service that works with refugee students. He assists in coordinating events such as the Annual Refugee Summit and the Uniterra Symposia. Jordan believes that transitioning is the most challenging aspect for many international students. He explains, “It’s really important that we have the support systems in place [to help international students]. That sense of community might not be here, there might be language barriers, school might be taught differently, or they could be missing their family. There could be a lot of things, so it’s important that we help their transition and actually allow them to prosper not only at Ryerson, but in Canada as a whole.”
How can other students play a role to support international students?
As corny as this sounds, just being a friend goes a long way. For people who leave behind everything – their families, their friends – being around, lending a hand, going out and being social, showing them Canadian culture, embracing their culture, having conversations, and helping with language is absolutely huge. [Many] international students deal with mental health issues because of their transition and a lot of those issues can be [resolved] just by having someone there to support you.
He encourages others to volunteer as the “change you will see in yourself will be tremendous.” To find opportunities, D’Souza’s tip is to try everything until you find a position that resonates with you. His suggestion for those who are unable to find time to volunteer is to make small changes throughout day, such as “opening the door for somebody or putting candy on your desk,” he jokes.
Overseas Humanitarian Trips
As the Ryerson Athletics RAVE Coordinator, D’Souza also coordinated a community development trip to Peru earlier this year. Through the IVHQ, nine athletes including D’Souza developed a community park and implemented a youth athletic program. Next May, a group of athletes and D’Souza will be jetting off to Cambodia. He excitedly shares, “We wanted to experience Southeast Asia. We’re excited to see and culturally experience something most people don’t get to participate in.”
The volunteers will be doing a childcare project, providing free day care and education to families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. “Women can actually be empowered and go to work,” D’Souza explains, “and families can actually have extra income.”
Passion and Activism
D’Souza emphasizes that helping others is not one in the same as changing people’s lives. He stresses, “We don’t set out to change the world, we set out to help as many individuals as we can. It’s about helping people help themselves by asking them what they need and helping them attain what they need. If we assume we know what they need, we’re in trouble because we really don’t know.”
When asked if he has ever wished he went down a different route, D’Souza confidently told me he’s pretty happy. “The only real drawback to my field is financial sustainability,” he admits, “but with that being said, most people in my field develop side careers.”
D’Souza is developing a speaking repertoire to supplement his income. “That’s just one of the trade-offs in this work,” he chuckles.
New World Award 2016 for Student Leadership in International Education
Most recently, the Canadian Bureau of International Educators recognized D’Souza’s involvement in developing an international campus as a Canadian-born student.
What does this award mean to you?
I’m humbled to be recognized. I never do things for awards, but it’s a great honour for people to know what I’m doing and the hard work that I’ve done. I’m humble to have come to Toronto. Back home, something like this wouldn’t really be possible so Toronto has given me a great amount of opportunity. I know that the nominees that I was competing against are all hardworking and amazing people. They are just as deserving [of this award].
I’m just very, very grateful and it’s just that much more motivation to continue my work in the future and try to help more people. This award is a testament of the people I’ve got to work with, the mentors that have given me so much of their time, to my family and to my friends obviously that have put up with this. But most of all, it’s really a testament of all the amazing people that I’ve gotten to actually help. They’ve taught me more than I could ever gain from them and I am very grateful for what they’ve done for me.
The eleven winners (including Jordan) of CBIE’s 2016 Excellence Award will be congregating at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa on November 12-16. CBIE will celebrating their 50th Annual Conference.