A valuable lesson on the power of education

Recently I was invited to attend a leadership conference put on by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board of Education. Between the keynote speakers and the breakout sessions, I learned an awful lot…

The first keynote speaker we were introduced to was Zita Cobb from Fogo Island, which is the largest off shore island of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  Zita Cobb grew up on Fogo Island in a culture that believes that nature and animals know everything, with seven seasons celebrated each year.  Cod fishing was the sustainable way of life for generations of island dwellers until the 1960s when large English and Polish ships helped deplete the supply of cod, closing the fisheries and forcing many of the islanders into poverty.  The fishing industry has since been revitalized on Fogo Island with the addition of new organizations and laws, modern technology and fisheries harvesting shrimp and crab as well as a new generation of cod.   During the economic downswing, Zita’s father urged her to leave the island to further her education and broaden her horizons.  She did so, and was very successful in the technology world, but the early lessons learned on Fogo Island remain ingrained in her personality and outlook on life.  She shared with us that she has learned that a formal education is not the only form of education.  Elders in a community have their own ways of knowing how to do the right thing for its people and the planet without a formal education.  Money should not be the only measure of success; the amount of joy in a community or culture should count too.  Her passion and wisdom have returned to Fogo Island to create the Fogo Island Inn, a modern masterpiece complete with 29 stunning guest suites, each boasting a spectacular view of the shoreline and sky, as well as a cinema, restaurant and library.  Her new foundation called Shorefast was established to keep the economic future of Fogo Island looking bright.

A second keynote speaker was Gabrielle Scrimshaw, a young aboriginal woman who left her small town in Northern Saskatchewan hoping for a better life for herself and increased understanding for her people.  Living off the land in a society filled with rampant sexual abuse in residential schools, by a mother suffering from substance abuse and a father travelling to support his career as an artist, Gabrielle struggled to survive, as most indigenous children do.  Motivated by a talk at her school by a friend of her teacher, she left that life behind her, the first person in her family to attend university.  She spent years travelling and learning from inspirational people she met along the way.  Today, as the indigenous population grows in Canada, she hopes to teach the rest of the country that many of these first nations descendants can help shift their economy with increased education and a sense of pride.  This successful motivational speaker had her audience in tears with her sad, yet inspirational stories, receiving a standing ovation for her accomplishments and achievements at such a young age.

Both of these women gave powerful speeches, a valuable lesson stressing that all forms of education are instrumental in motivating the best leaders of the present and future.  As Gabrielle noted, we must “create good footprints so we can walk in a good way.”  Please take the time to follow the links to read more about these two amazing and powerful women!