Tue | Apr 13, 2021

Have big dreams – Abrahim Simmonds

Published:Friday | February 26, 2021 | 12:12 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Abrahim Simmonds, national coordinator.
Abrahim Simmonds, national coordinator.

Dream big about what you want to achieve. As a child, Abrahim Simmonds wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. A natural people person, he was always concerned about the welfare of others and being a level-headed individual, he knew just what to do to make things right.

Simmonds grew up in St Mary with his mother and younger brother. He had a great childhood and, like most children, had a grand time interacting with his peers. He attended St Mary High School and in the beginning, he was a very shy student. “I always moved away from the spotlight, and preferred to stay in the background to achieve my goals,” Simmonds said.

However, his life changed dramatically when he met his former teacher, Christine Wright. “If I didn’t meet her, I would never have become a student leader,” he said.

“I accompanied one of my friends to a 4-H Club meeting and they were electing officers for the club. My friend recommended me and although I declined, Ms Wright insisted that I was among the ballots, and after the elections were completed, I became the vice-president for the club,” Simmonds added.

There was no turning back for Simmonds after that experience. As a 4-H clubbite, he came second as National Boy of The Year and served as president of other clubs at the school. He was also the school’s deputy head boy.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was always starting a project. I had the passion to pull resources together to solve issues, but I never thought that a career could come from it. I spoke to the vice-principal at the time and expressed my desire to do social projects, and I was advised to do social work,” Simmonds said.

He received a Summer of Service Scholarship from The Office of the Governor General to study at The University of the West Indies (UWI). The Summer of Service (SOS) is a programme conceptualised, developed and executed by the I Believe Initiative, an arm of the Governor General’s Programme For Excellence.

This programme seeks to encourage youth who are matriculating or are completing their first undergraduate year to dedicate their summer to a worthy cause, while vying for prizes that will help them achieve a tertiary education.

While at The UWI, Simmonds championed many initiatives to assist young people. He was the founding director for Jamaican Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism, which assists young people to identify a skill or talent that they can use to help the community.

The initiative also created programmes that used the arts to drive positive changes. In one such programme, ArtReach, volunteers visit children’s homes and rehabilitation centres to provide music, art and drama sessions. Another, HerStory, encourages young women from disadvantaged communities to use the spoken word and writing to help them to explore their past.

“There are not many role models for the youth, and not enough infrastructure and resources for their personal development,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds received the Queen’s Young Leader Award, conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work. “This was one of the best days of my life,” he said.

CAREER JOURNEY

Simmonds graduated from UWI with a Bachelor of Science in social work. Afterwards, Simmonds worked closely with Family Health International, an implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development, for three years.

“I worked closely with civil society and government partners in the Caribbean (Trinidad, Barbados, Suriname, Guyana and Jamaica) and West Africa to use information and communications technologies to extend the reach of services to key populations affected by HIV,” he said.

“I also supported country programmes to develop tools that captured data and shared data on the impact of peer-led online engagement and HIV service uptake. This experience has led me to many places around the world, where I have led presentations about my work,” Simmonds added.

He was among the youngest persons to share at the 10th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV held in Mexico City, Mexico.

To further his studies, Simmonds started a Master of Science degree in social policy, also at UWI, but his ambitions and having worked closely with Family Health International, led him to reconsider if this was the programme that he really wanted to pursue.

He changed course and successfully applied for a Chevening Scholarship and completed his Master of Science degree in health informatics from the Swansea University Medical School in Wales. “Health informatics is the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of healthcare information to foster better collaboration among a patient’s various healthcare providers. Health informatics plays a critical role in the push towards healthcare reform,” Simmonds said.

“It was an amazing experience and way better than I had expected. I remember being in a taxi and staring out the window at the buildings. The taxi driver realised I was not from the area and gave me a historical journey. It was like that throughout the time I was there,” Simmonds added.

With his plethora of experience and expertise, Simmonds has now come full circle as his association with the governor general’s office has been solidified. He is now the national coordinator for the Governor General’s Programme for Excellence (GGPE).

The GGPE evolved in 2014 to give cohesiveness to the programmes that are affiliated to The Office of the Governor General: the Governor General’s Achievement Awards and the I Believe Initiative.

“It feels like it’s come full circle and it is a big thing for me. My objective is to strengthen the programme in a significant way. As a data scientist, I want to support the programme, not just by implementation of the project in terms of data, but also in telling a bigger story,” Simmonds said.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com