When I first established the Arlington Street Foundation Scholarship (ASFS), I did so with the goal of empowering a new generation of leaders.
To me, the most important quality of an effective leader is recognizing and encouraging leadership qualities in others. Over the holiday season, our 2012 scholarship recipient Almaz Aschalew demonstrated this quality in spades.
She was attending an end of year celebration at Gordon Bell High School for The Peaceful Village, an after-school program that supports struggling students – primarily newcomers to Canada. Almaz herself is a testament to its success, having gone from attending, to volunteering, to working for the program.
The event featured performances from Gordon Bell students and at the end of the event, the newest “villagers” were invited to share their own traditions with the group.
According to Marc Kuly, an Assistant Professor at the University of Winnipeg and ASFS board member who was attending the event, a few teenage boys who recently arrived from Syria made their way to the front. As they looked out on the crowd of about 400 people, it looked as though their nerves were about to get the better of them.
“Almaz was sitting in the row ahead of me, next to another Syrian boy,” said Marc. “She kept tapping him on the shoulder and pointing to the other boys saying, ‘they need your help’.”
Just as the boys were about to return to their seats, she persuaded the young man next to her to join them. With his help, they formed a line, held hands, and as the music began to play, they launched into a wild folk dance.
“The crowd went nuts,” Mark said. “But the boys weren’t that coordinated. They still needed a bit more help.”
Then, an older man walked out of the crowd, took a string of beads from his pocket, faced the boys, began swinging the beads and took over the line. The dance restarted.
“It was amazing – foot stomping, whirling, everyone in the crowd was on their feet,” said Marc. “These men were dancing, when just six months ago, they were running for their lives. Honestly, it was an amazing moment.”
So, what does this have to do with Almaz? None of it happens without her recognizing a leader and showing him the opportunity in front of him.
That is exactly what this scholarship (and being a leader) is all about.