July 2019

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At 4 o’clock every morning, Michael Bristol travels from his home in La Fillette, on the north-eastern coast of Trinidad, to The UWI in St Augustine where he studies computer science. After classes, he travels back home and tutors the children in his village for their CSEC and SEA exams. The next day, he does it all again and has been doing so for a year.

Michael isn’t a story we tell children when they aren’t being appreciative of what they have, he’s real. He’s also ambitious and aims to be a respected member of his community. He wants to improve the world through software design and development. He wants to become a pilot. Any or all of the above would be satisfactory, in no particular order. Michael believes he has far to go but at 21 years of age, look at how far he has come.

At 12, he joined the Trinidad and Tobago Cadet Force and spent the next seven years learning the principles of discipline and respect. At 16, he helped his parents run a small business, an Internet cafe based in La Fillette, a much needed service for the area. At 19, he was the first youth officer to be made drill sergeant of his battalion at the Cadet Force.

At UWI, at age 20, he built and launched two mobile apps along with two classmates, Amanda Seenath and Azel Daniel. Those apps, The UWI GPA Calculator and The UWI Shuttle Routing Tracking System, are still available for download on the Play Store. At 21, he started a sole trader, Brissk Software Solutions, providing customised web services to clients in Trinidad as well as Tobago. “Michael have it nice”, you might think, but that’s far from the truth.

Michael has been a recipient of financial funding via The UWI’s Adopt-A-Student programme since 2017. Recommended by a member of staff, he has been using the monthly bursaries to primarily help offset the cost of transportation to and from campus for the last two years.

Although there is a stigma associated with the need for financial assistance, Michael believes that by acting as an ambassador for the programme and sharing information about the benefits, he can make a positive impact on the lives of fellow students. He has already noted an increase in attendance from students who once cited lack of transportation funds as their reason for missing classes but who became recipients of the fund themselves.

The UWI’s Adopt-a-Student programme has been in operation since 2005 and, to date, it has provided financial assistance to over 500 students. It is funded by the personal contributions of the University’s academic, administrative, and technical services staff members. Adopt-a-Student is one of the financial assistance funds offered by UWI St Augustine’s Division of Student Services and Development (DSSD).

Meet Tanisha Lewis, a 34-year-old mother from Arima. She has worked at The UWI for 13 years and firmly believes in giving back to her community. She volunteers at graduation. She collects plastic waste after campus events and deposits them personally in the appropriate recycling bins. She is currently the Senior Student Services Assistant at the Guild and she leaves her door wide open for students to feel welcome. From the near-constant traffic in and out of her office, they do.

Tanisha has been contributing to the Adopt-a-Student fund for the past 12 years and has made a point of increasing her contribution every time her salary increases. Her monthly subscriptions are considered as important as her bills, something she just has to do without question.

Recently, Tanisha was invited to meet some of the students who have benefitted from the programme. She was not ashamed to say “I cried” at that meeting. She knows, from her daily interaction with students, how many of them struggle to have their basic needs met, especially regional students who do not have the advantage of GATE funding. Tanisha believes that she can help make a difference and so she does.

Well known in her office for her philanthropy, she has been encouraging her friends and colleagues to commit to the fund. “Even one dollar could make a difference to a student,'' she says and clearly believes. She doesn’t stop at this programme though and has found funding for one student who could not afford the late registration fee and another who needed to buy lab equipment.

Tanisha is a force of nature in her own right with an awe-inspiring drive to be of service to others.

Be a Tanisha – for all the Michaels at UWI St Augustine.

Members of staff of The UWI and readers of UWI Today interested in contributing to the Adopt-a-Student fund can do so by contacting Kristy.Smith@sta.uwi.edu.

Avah Atherton is a short story writer and aspiring cultural archivist based in Trinidad and Tobago.