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In May, 2012, seven students from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada volunteered for five weeks with the Every Child Counts School in Marsh Harbour. The five students were recent social work graduates; two were on academic student placements in Early Childhood Studies. Here are their reflections on ECC and Abaco.

Ryerson students reflect on time spent at Every Child Counts School

Ryerson Students
Preferssor Jean Golden, center, with her group of volunteers from Ryerson University. The Toronto group spent several weeks as volunteers at Every Child Counts with the students.


In May, 2012, seven students from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada volunteered for five weeks with the Every Child Counts School in Marsh Harbour. The five students were recent social work graduates; two were on academic student placements in Early Childhood Studies. Here are their reflections on ECC and Abaco.

April Pisani

Ryerson BSW graduate

Many weeks have passed since I returned home to Toronto, Canada from Every Child Counts School. I have not been able to stop thinking about my experience in Abaco. I miss the amazing scenery, the lovely weather, the calm and quiet that came with being surrounded by so much natural beauty. However, what I miss most is the feeling I had each morning when arriving at Every Child Counts, being greeted with smiles and laughter. ECC is the most positive atmosphere I have ever encountered: the interaction and relations among staff and students are like a loving and supportive family, and the student volunteers from Ryerson University were made to feel so welcome. The children expressed so much appreciation for my help, without knowing just how great their impact on me would be. For the gratitude, love, positivity and joy that the children at ECC carried with them and shared each day, I am forever inspired and grateful. Thank you- I miss you all dearly!

Heather Cox-Gurdon

Ryerson BSW graduate

My experience in Abaco volunteering at Every Child Counts was filled with learning, laughter and life-long memories. What stood out for me was how welcoming and kind the school and community were to our volunteer group. Staff and students openly shared their stories of struggle, success and goals for the future of the school. It was very powerful to have the opportunity to listen to people’s stories and be part of the process of making future goals a reality.

I travelled with ECC student athletes to the Bahamas National Special Olympics. It demonstrated to me how sport builds self-esteem and empowers people of all ages and abilities while promoting acceptance of diversity. It also showed me how the Abaco community came together to turn the dreams of children and youth into reality through raising funds and encouraging students to persevere in the face of adversity.

Rachel Gillis

Ryerson BSW graduate

The most amazing thing about Every Child Counts, and Abaco for that matter, was the sense of community. Everyone was connected and invested in each other. Whether at the school, or at the grocery store, or even at the beach, we were always at home. I’ve traveled to many places around the world as a student, but none have been so warm and embracing. The school exemplified this in the way it involved students in the care of the school and each other. I’ll always have a little Abaco in me wherever I go.

Amanda Lewis

Ryerson BSW graduate

Travelling to Abaco was easy for me. I had more trouble leaving the quiet island surrounded by beautiful ocean, kind people who made me feel truly appreciated and the smiling faces that greeted me every single day at ECC. It felt like home. Walking into the classroom the first week I would double check the time to make sure I was not late because there were so many students sitting at their desks ready to learn. I learned quickly most students arrived early every day, sometimes even before the teachers.  It is a safe haven for them, free from discrimination. Their smiling faces and conversations would turn my entire day around. The memories from the five weeks I spent in Abaco are ones that will stay with me for a long time.

Stephanie Henthorn

Ryerson BSW graduate

Volunteering in The Bahamas was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my years of working in the disability field. It was a life changing experience. The Abaco community was very welcoming and genuinely happy to have us there. The ECC teachers and volunteers were often working with limited resources in the classroom, but it did not impact the level of support and attention that was given to the students. There were students with a range of abilities and the teachers always ensured that all of the students had an active role in getting the work done. There is a vocational program that makes soap to sell in the community and plans for expansion of vocational training opportunities. I came back to Canada over two months ago and think of Abaco daily. I can’t wait until an opportunity presents itself for me to go back again! What a beautiful and welcoming community.

Archana Kathir

Ryerson Early Childhood Studies student

At ECC I helped a teacher run daily routines, transitions and plan lessons. I also worked one-on-one with multiple students who were in my classroom.  I participated in the Special Olympics Torch Run in Abaco alongside ECC students and local members of the community. This was an amazing opportunity to meet a number of the students’ parents, siblings and supportive community members. Within ECC student fitness is an important component and is incorporated in the morning activities.  With my dance background I decided to create an activity that focused on bringing more movement into the classroom. This activity allowed the children to express their own creativity, moving to the beat and rhythm of the music.

My favorite memory at Every Child Counts is helping children build confidence in their learning. Through previous experiences with children, I learned that being patient with children allowed them to truly strive in their learning. One child in particular needed guidance to help him focus on his work. Because I was able to provide him the support he needed along with positive encouragement he was motivated to complete his work. I saw a huge improvement in his work habits.

Erikka Dal Bello

Ryerson Early Childhood Studies student

The ECC teachers and the students helped me grow as an individual and a professional.  The teachers taught me ways to be flexible when working with so many children with different needs and abilities. The students showed me how different and talented every child is and how they can achieve wonders with a positive attitude and encouragement

What surprised me about Abaco was the friendliness of everyone. Many people knew that we were volunteering at ECC and always had the nicest things to say to say.  It was surprising to see how friendly people there were to us, yet know how students with disabilities are not always treated the same way in the community.  Coming from university study that focuses highly on inclusion with children with special needs, it was a big change to see how many children are not given the support in the Bahamian public school system to learn and be successful.  It was a really great experience to be able to work with all these students at ECC where they are all welcome and encouraged to do their best.

Jean Golden

Professor of Sociology at Ryerson University

Professor Jean Golden coordinated the student volunteer placements between Ryerson University and Every Child Counts. Here are her reflections.

I have been travelling to Abaco for over twenty five years and have made many wonderful friends. It is a community of beauty and warmth. Two years ago Mary Gottlieb introduced me to Lyn Majors, the principal of Every Child Counts School. I quickly learned the exceptional story of ECC since 1998 through the leadership of Lyn Majors and the support of the Abaco community. I realized Ryerson University had human resources, -students, faculty and community contacts, -to assist ECC in its educational work, and ECC had the educational environment to help Ryerson students develop professionally.

This May the first group of Ryerson student volunteers arrived. By the end of the five weeks in the school, none of them wanted to leave.  They learned much about the warmth of the Abaconian people, the extraordinary commitment of the ECC teacher and volunteers, the absence of educational and vocational support for children with disabilities by the Bahamian government and the need for community disability awareness programs. Most importantly, their experiences in ECC and Abaco reinforced for them the value of every human life, the beauty in human diversity, and the importance of giving back to others. It is a joy for me personally, as their teacher and mentor, to have been part of this learning process in Abaco. In turn, I learned much from these seven students and from the principal, teachers, students and staff of Every Child Counts.

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