Community Initiatives Program

Keeping up with the world

The Era-Banner

August 15, 2006

Her e-mail list is full of friends she has met over the years, but not just those in her own community.

At 28, Newmarket's Amy Brathwaite has experienced more through travel than many twice her age. Since meeting friends she met while working in East Africa, Tanzania and Bangladesh whom she still contacts via e-mail, she always seems to know what is going on in the world.

"I remember when I was a little kid looking at National Geographic magazines and being fascinated in all the different kinds of people," Ms Brathwaite said. "I was sick of hearing my cousins tell me about their travels, so I decided it was my turn."

The former Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School graduate attended the University of Calgary to earn her undergraduate degree and continued to study international development to complete her masters at a school in Denmark.

As part of her studies, Ms Brathwaite travelled to England, Europe and Australia, then went to Tanzania as part of her placement to work as an HIV/AIDS educator, raising awareness and educating high school students about the disease.

"Tanzania is such a beautiful place -- the palm trees, oceans and once you got into the towns there were moms with babies on their hips and children playing with sticks and wheels," she said.

She was terrified about her first time in a developing country, but excited at the same time, anticipating the adventure. Some cultural differences were difficult to adapt to, she added.

"The first thing I noticed was how people aren't shy there," she laughed. "If you have a spot on your face, they ask you (about it) and people don't hesitate to tell you you're fat."

Being a North American woman in Tanzania was especially difficult because Ms Brathwaite had to change her clothing so the majority of her skin was covered as not to offend the villagers.

Also, relationships with men are different in the culture. It is rare a woman has a male that is just a friend, plus body language, gestures and speech had to be closely thought about since these things have different meanings in different parts of the world.

"You have to figure these things out on your own," she said. "It's not like they give you a list once you get there."

She then jumped at the opportunity to take a job with the United Nations to Bangladesh where she would serve as an HIV consultant and wrote a regular column for The Era-Banner, detailing her trip. The country is still the hardest to define for her -- all she could say was Bangladesh is "very intense in every way".

While there, she had feelings of guilt and frustration with children tugging on her shirt sleeve for change, but she had to refuse because the money does not support the child, but the higher rank of the begging ring that forces children to beg.

"It's really hard because I had to realize I am only one person," she said. "So I would volunteer at centres and do fundraisers instead."

The countries in which she has worked or studied and the people she has met and helped aren't far from her mind when she comes home to stay at her parents' Newmarket home.

Her efforts don't stop when she's home, though.

Helping Youth Through Educational Scholarships (HYTES), an organization founded by her cousin, is dedicated to sponsoring children in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Guatemala with scholarships so they can attend secondary school and continue their education.

"Some of the students I have worked with are currently being sponsored," Ms Brathwaite said. "These children want their education and the only thing stopping them from getting it is the fact that they can't pay for it."

She has captured some of the people she has met on her travels and many experiences by utilizing her passion for photography. She is very excited to be sharing her photographs with area residents during her art exhibition and sale tomorrow from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the York Region District School Board Education Centre on Wellington Street in Aurora. A portion of the proceeds will be go to HYTES.

"I want to spark awareness and get people to start thinking globally," she said. "I hope my pictures get something across."

Her father, Frank, is proud of his daughter's accomplishments, although he had some concerns about her travels. His concerns, however, were nothing compared to his wife's.

"I was worried about her health, but her mom was unsettled about the whole thing," he laughed. "But I think that's the job of mom, to worry."

He has observed a change in his daughter after her exploration of the world and different cultures, he said. He finds she has more confidence, poise and has become excellent with finding a solution to any problem.

"She has amazed us with some of the adventures she's had," he added. "She has to continue to follow her heart and I know she will."

Ms Brathwaite said she has always been focused on social injustice, admitting she gets stirred up and angry about some of the things going on in the world today. She wants to continue to do her part and wants others to know there are much more difficult places in which to live than in Canada.

"Yes there are challenges in the health care system here, but you can still go to a doctor," she said. "Things are not perfect here, but it's pretty damn good."

For more information about HYTES, go to

"One in five of the world's people lives on less than $1 a day."
- Jessica Williams