Voices of Youth: Sara Maharajh – WYCUP Youth Ambassador to Jamaica

Global perspective from a YP with a passion for cooperatives who “busted out of the gates” when the COVID travel restrictions were lifted.

I’m an advocate, an employee, a volunteer, and a member in various types of co-ops. I grew up with and have grown through the co-operative system both personally and professionally. Last year my two passions collided when I was chosen as a recipient of the WYCUP scholarship program through the World Council of Credit Unions.

Like many of you, I grew pretty antsy working, living, shopping, and socializing in my living room throughout the pandemic. My desire to travel went way beyond healthy. Don’t get me wrong, normally I love watching the seasons change, but the same view from my ground floor unit at my housing co-op gets a bit stale after a while.

The fact that I’m a “people person”, with the title of “relationship manager,” I scrambled to feed my soul, trying to figure out ways I could still maintain and develop authentic relationships with my credit unions, family, and friends. I became a Zoom freak – trying to maintain and grow my connections while rarely leaving my comfy chair and my view of a Toronto parking-lot.

I was getting depressed – and then it happened. Sitting in my comfy chair, looking at the cars that rarely moved from their parking spaces, I realized that if I’m working from home I could be working from anywhere, right? The pandemic, while isolating had opened a door I have never considered. With the blessing of my employers at the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), I booked a flight to Jamaica and created my remote “home office” in Montego Bay.

Usually when I go on vacation, I play a game with myself called “spot the credit union” where I will look for credit unions in the region, take pictures and post them on social media. (I know, you aren’t the first to think I’m a geek). But this time I was hoping to do more.

I reached out to Thom Belekevich, the Director who oversees World Council’s Young Credit Union Professionals (WYCUP) Program and asked him if he would connect me with a credit union or two while I was there. I set some lofty goals for myself to:

  • Learn as much as I could about the Jamaican Credit Union System;
  • Spread the word about WYCUP and increase engagement throughout the country; and
  • Develop international relationships with likeminded folks

WYCUP connected me with one of Jamaica’s true gems, Vera Lindo. And that is exactly when life got fun again.

Vera works for the Jamacia Co-operative Credit Union League (JCCUL) and supports the twenty-five credit unions across the country. Vera welcomed me with open arms, (ok, elbow bumps actually) and hooked me up with the fabulously creative Nicole Haughton who shared the inside scoop on branch operations at Gateway Co-operative Credit Union. Nicole taught me about the history of EduCom, shared some of the secret sauce in their many innovations. She explained how they do business on the island, introduced me to their passionate young professionals and fed me like I was a queen.

My journey continued as I traveled over to Kingston to meet up with Katrina (Kat) Daguilar who took me on a spectacular tour of First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, CUmax and the League where she works. We traveled back in time while visiting some historical landmarks and, in true Jamaican hospitality, we ate and then we ate some more and then we had dessert.

While there, I met with JCCUL CEO, Mr. Robin Levy who has a holistic and in-depth knowledge about the credit union system, its roots, its priorities, and its direction. I spoke with Robin and his team about WYCUP, and the opportunities it facilitates with focus on the future generation of credit union leaders. Eyes brightened around the building as I explained how we have so much in common across the world, and how as young leaders we can benefit from the experiences of each other, regardless of where our credit unions operate.

Word got out that I’m a competitive domino player. Before I knew what was happening, the whole team from JCCUL had organized a party with Jamacia’s famous KFC and the banging of domino’s could be heard across town!

Just when I thought I’d completed all I’d set out to do, I was invited to be a guest speaker at the League’s strategic planning session – spreading the word about WYCUP and its amazing initiatives to bring together the world’s young credit union professions and support the future of our global sector.

Among the distinguished participants was the JCCUL Board member and CEO of Portland Community Credit Union, Mr. Martin Blackwood.  It’s amazing what they are doing to lift their community.  The credit union is intertwined and ingrained with almost all aspects of community life that its members value.  One example – they challenge their young members to learn the ins and outs of a credit union product and then create a commercial explaining its features and benefits – financial literacy education at it’s best! Young people took the challenge seriously, taught each other about their assigned product and the commercials produced were phenomenal!

This experience was a game changer for my professional life. I’ll never be the same. Returning home, it occurred to me that the pandemic took me on quite ride – and it’s one I am truly grateful for. I love cooperatives and the people they attract. My people, my home, regardless of where it happens to be in the world.

Co-operatively yours,

Sara

P.S. As this article is being published, I’m back off to Jamaica to attend the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Union Conference. With the support and cooperation of CCUA, CCCU and WYCUP, it looks like Jamaica is just the beginning of my Caribbean connection story. Stay tuned.

Itching to learn more about WYCUP? Check them out here: WYCUP | wycup.org

Sara Maharajh

Sara Maharajh

Sara Maharajh is Business Relationship Manager at the Canadian Credit Union Association. Web: https://ccua.com Details

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