We are thrilled to announce the addition of Leila Fraser to our team! Leila is taking on an operations role at Groundswell as we grow and deliver bigger and better programming, events, and impact. Welcome, Leila! Read on to hear her story in her own words...
I am on a mission to align the stars in my life so that my passions, values, and strengths can intersect - where public health meets social justice and policy change.
To this day, my most meaningful experience was working abroad in Uganda, where I completed two concurrent internships at non-profit organizations and finished my Health Science degree. At Straight Talk Foundation, as a Research Intern, I analyzed data, participated in research study design and implementations, as well as authored an analysis report on how the political economy of Uganda affects health outcomes of Ugandan girls. I reached out to Reproductive Health Uganda during my internship, in order to take on an additional community-focused role, where I earned a certificate from Planned Parenthood Africa Region through training. I used this context in teaching sexual health workshops in schools, markets, and rural villages. My goal was to help girls and women understand the importance of taking ownership of their sexual and reproductive health, and dismantle any myths or taboos around hygiene/sanitation, puberty, and HIV/AIDS. Some girls really thought that Coca Cola could prevent pregnancy or the transmission of HIV. Educating to Empower was my mission throughout my experiences in Africa. But in a mirrored discourse, I went to Africa to learn, too. I purposely put myself in difficult situations in order to become more educated — I took a Boda (motorbike) to hangout in slums and listen to stories, I travelled to rural villages to live first hand the differences in lifestyle, and I talked with sex workers who came up to my car asking for money. It all came back to the same point: loosening the grip of poverty. But how?
At the end of my work and schooling, I traveled almost all of East Africa by car, bus, and boat: Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania/Zanzibar. After my travels, I returned back to Uganda before flying home. My friend Naboo and his girlfriend had their first baby together, and he asked me to give her a Muzungu/Canadian name. Isabella, “Devoted to God”, is always in my heart and the back of my mind. After being exposed to life changing events and people in Africa, I knew that I couldn’t rest unless I knew I was improving the world and giving voice to communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, as they struggle in unimaginable ways.
I sat down and made a list of what I needed out of life in order to be happy.
All signs pointed towards abandoning my application to become a Naturopathic Doctor, and instead continuing to develop my strengths in the non-profit world. I yearned for a tight-knit grassroots community to flourish with. I worked with two non-profit organizations in the Downtown Eastside before moving into Fundraising. I took on multiple roles in Donation Processing + Database Management with various high-profile healthcare focused charities, before burning out from the soul-crushing enigma of siloed work.
I felt like I was moving further and further away from my passions and my goals, until the Executive Director of Youth Sport Uganda reached out to me for my assistance in launching a pilot project/community initiative to help Ugandan girls become entrepreneurs through sewing. As their Ambassador, I took on the responsibility of Development + Operations, and finally got a taste of social entrepreneurship and building an environment where youth could create their own livelihoods. There was no looking back -- I felt like I was redirected onto the right path.
As soon as The Tailoring Project launched in Uganda in mid-January, I found Groundswell. If life is a puzzle, all of the pieces started to feel like they fit; signs from the universe lead me to Groundswell. My juggernaut of experiences seem to mesh well with Groundswell’s needs; I am thrilled to use my experience in systems, operations, and logistics to build processes which support Groundswell’s day to day operations and make things to run smoothly and efficiently.
More than ever, Groundswell is going through an exciting phase, as registered Charity status is on the horizon! With my experience working and volunteering in the non-profit industry for the past decade, including building policies and procedures for multiple charities, I am excited to channel my lived experiences into my work. On the flip side, I look forward to all of the challenges I will experience while working at Groundswell, because I know that I will become a better person from being part of the Groundswell community and ecosystem. I feel truly #blessed to be part of such an amazing team, and I wake up every day excited to go to work.
My vision for the future is to develop my strengths while supporting students of Groundswell to realize their own potential. I know that by being surrounded by mentors and delightful humans, I will learn alongside Groundswell cohorts, in becoming the best version of myself. With that, I will be able to return to Africa one day, ready to tackle the infinite growing pains of international development. Until then, I have a lot of (exciting!) work to do...