Community of supporters embrace Masai student from first year to convocation
June 08, 2012
Teriano Lesancha has come a long way in achieving higher education.
Lesancha, who is from a small herding village in Kenya, graduated June 6 from the School of Social Work after facing many challenges - beginning with the unheard of and brave choice to get an education over getting married.
Lesancha is one of 5,489 students graduating this spring. From June 6 to 16, graduates will embark on a new chapter of their lives and hear from renowned honorary doctorate recipients such as filmmaker Ivan Reitman, and authors Margaret Atwood and Rohinton Mistry. A full list of honorary doctorates can be seen at www.ryerson.ca/news/media/General_Public/20120321_ma_hondocs.html.
Lesancha is the first girl in her Masai village to go to university and the first local to study abroad. Her achievements wouldn’t have been made possible without the commitment and support of Ryerson community members. Led by sociology professor Jean Golden, students, faculty and staff across the university banded together to raise tuition money for every year Lesancha studied.
“There’s something about Teriano’s personality that makes people want to help,” Golden said. “She’s smart, she’s bright, she has a very infectious laugh and she’s got a good political head on her shoulders.”
Golden first met Lesancha in her Feminism and Society continuing education course at The Chang School and immediately knew Lesancha needed assistance. The student was stressed out because her sponsor had just fallen through. That prompted Golden to introduce Lesancha to President Sheldon Levy.
“I remember when I first met Teriano. She was a very frightened young lady who was almost invisible,” Levy said. “Now I see the confidence and courage education has given her. Teriano is magical. She has given every bit back to us and she’s made us a better university.”
Golden and Levy were the catalysts in creating a support system for Lesancha. Their contribution has been so great that Lesancha’s parents have dubbed Golden and Levy as their daughter’s second mother and father. Lesancha’s father has even given Levy a cow, a sign of thanks in their village, which Levy will accept when he travels to Kenya in July. Through Golden’s outreach, donations and assistance from social work students, faculty and staff, the president’s office, Alterna Savings, financial services, international student services, the registrar’s office, university advancement, CUPE, the Ryerson Faculty Association, Ryerson International and the Ryerson Students’ Union helped carve out a permanent place for Lesancha at Ryerson. A concert was held in her honour to help raise the $16,000 she needed to study and World Vision also stepped in, employing Lesancha as an ambassador which helped pay for her living expenses.
“Whoever I asked for help, not one person hesitated,” Golden said. “They opened up their heart and knowledge. That’s what I like about Ryerson – people are so generous here.”
Forever grateful, Lesancha has big dreams now that she’s graduated. She’s recently established a foundation to provide education and health care in her Masai community and she plans on getting a master’s degree to return to her village and devote her life to community services and politics. She longs to become the first female Masai member of Kenyan parliament.
As one last bit of celebration, Golden organized a lunch after Lesancha’s graduation ceremony so she can meet all the people who have helped her over the years. As well, Lesancha’s parents travelled from Kenya to see her cross the stage at convocation. After moving thousands of miles away to a world she knew nothing about, Lesancha now not only has an education but has a second family and community. Visibly emotional at the reception, Lesancha choked up while giving thanks and assured to the audience that she will pay the good deeds forward.
For more on Teriano’s story, read the Toronto Star article that made front page news.