“We all have a vision of doing great things, but we don’t all have the same opportunity."
When Gary Hayes entered the Masters of Arts in Global Leadership program at Royal Roads University, he was looking to change his career, but he ended up changing his life.
Four years ago Hayes, 30, was enjoying his job as a production coordinator at Discovery Channel Canada, where he crewed on adventure documentaries that took him around the world. He had ambitions to become a director and began producing short films to build his portfolio, which led him to work with an acquaintance from Humber College.
Jacky W.L. Chan was delivering outdoor leadership programs for children from marginalized communities in Jamaica and he needed a video to tell his story and promote the project.
“I like the idea of storytelling,” Hayes begins, before launching into the tale of how he went from showcasing Chan’s story to becoming part of it. It’s peppered with anecdotes about how they delivered recreational programs to youth from Riverton City, a landfill site on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica. Then there’s the one about how they figured out the logistics of delivering laptops to remote villages in mountainous Nepal (they found volunteers with stellar hiking skills to pack them in). That also led to some new partnerships with local organizations.
“TV was a lot of fun—I loved to travel and experience other cultures—but I knew my values were rooted elsewhere. More focused on people,” Hayes recalls. He also knew he needed a formal education in international development to cope with the political, economic and management obstacles that aid agencies face.
But as he tallied his own obstacles he wasn’t sure graduate school was an option. He didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. He didn’t have the money to return to school full-time. Or even part-time. And he had a demanding job.
“I would get a call on Tuesday morning saying I was going to Germany for a week,” Hayes says. “I needed a program flexible enough to adapt to my schedule.”
That schedule also included being a caregiver for his father, who had suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident when Gary was just a child.
Royal Roads’ mix of online classes and short-term residencies provided the flexibility he needed. A bursary and two scholarships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council eased the financial burden.
“That support allowed me to take the time I needed to do the work in Nepal. You can’t rush, you have to respect and get to know people, go with the flow,” says Hayes, who spent three months there, researching his capstone project: International Development: Collaboration & Partnerships to improve Quality Education in Remote Nepal.
The leadership skills he learned also gave him new insight into how his family had been managing his father’s condition.
“I realized that he needed more care; more of a community. We got him into a facility where he has a social life and he’s happier.”
Hayes has found a new community too—academics. He graduated in 2018 and is looking forward to exploring the field of developmental evaluation. He is also considering returning to Royal Roads to pursue a doctoral degree.
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