From hardship to mentorship: Community Development grad helps high school students find their way

Othello Wesee, Wayfinders program, Seven Oaks School Division

Othello Wesee has struggled to get to where he is today, and he’s devoted his life to helping kids so they don’t have to do the same.

Growing up in a refugee camp in Liberia, Wesee saw his fair share of violence, struggled to find clean drinking water and faced a serious lack of opportunity – even though he tried to make the best of things at all times.

“I coached soccer teams in grade school back home,” he says, adding he has always been one to improve his community.

The good news is Wesee was able to immigrate to Canada in 2004. The bad news? His wife, Vivian, then pregnant with their son Othello Jr., was not. During his first few years in Winnipeg, Wesee worked to save enough money to sponsor them – just one of the hardships the young family faced during their seven-year battle with immigration services. He also worked to make his new downtown neighbourhood a brighter place by organizing soccer teams for newcomer and inner city kids in Central Park.

Wesee knew he would need an educational boost to further his community-minded career, and found a perfect fit in Red River College’s Community Development/Community Economic Development program. He was able to quickly obtain the skills he required while taking the one-year program, all while working weekends to support his family in Liberia. He graduated in 2010, and also went on to earn his Health Care Aide certification at RRC.

“Red River College gave me so many opportunities,” he says. “It was a very good program.”

Wesee’s first opportunity was immediate. The Seven Oaks School Division hired him at the end of his work placement with them in April 2010 – three months before he was set to graduate. Since then, he has been a student/parent support worker for the school division, most recently with their Wayfinders program.

Wayfinders is a mentorship and outreach program that gives high school students chances they might otherwise not get, encouraging them to graduate and helping them successfully transition to post-secondary.

Wesee works with many immigrant students on their self-esteem and educational goals, and also works with their parents on modernizing their values. “You don’t want to downgrade their values, but you also let them know how to adapt into society while maintaining those values,” he says.

Wesee also communicates daily with teachers as well as Child and Family Services, with whom he sometimes has to negotiate. Thankfully, that’s one of the many useful skills he picked up at RRC.

“You need people skills, organizational skills and negotiation skills. Without Red River’s training, I wouldn’t have had the skills I needed to get this job.”

While it’s not unusual to hear Wesee’s cellphone go off at 11 p.m. for an urgent, work-related matter, he appreciates his flexible hours – especially now that Vivian and Othello Jr. are finally back home.

After years of separation, the family of three was reunited for good in the summer of 2015. Vivian, a dressmaker and singer, is still adapting to her home in Winnipeg but hopes to soon study nursing. Othello Jr., now 12, is enjoying his second year of school in Canada and anticipating the year’s first snowfall.

“He’s already skating and playing hockey,” says Wesee. “He loves it.”

Now that everything has fallen into place for him, Wesee will continue to help others find their way. His future goals include working with disadvantaged children on Northern reserves, and heading back to Liberia to provide young people suffering from Ebola with the supplies and tuition fees they need for school.

“This is a dream come true for me,” he says. “(Community Development) was a very short program, but it really prepared me. I was doing these things already, but not really in a professional way. This helped me get my feet on the ground.”

— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)