Hello, my name is Solange Tuyishime, the founder and CEO of Elevate International. In 1996 I arrived in Canada as a 13 year old young refugee who had just survived war and genocide. By that time I had experienced many horrible events and challenging circumstances one can and cannot imagine. I went from living a peaceful life to surviving with the bare minimum, I saw many lives being taken away by hate, anger, greed and diseases. Living in a tent, I found myself wondering what the future had in store for me and if there was really such a thing a future for me. No matter how bad the situation became, for some reason I never stopped dreaming. In my dreams I often saw myself on a big stage with millions of people, sharing love, courage and wisdom. I didn’t really know what that dream meant and how it would come to life, but I held on to it with everything that I had.
By the time I arrived in Canada life had strengthen me. No matter how much I tried to be like every other child who hadn’t experienced my struggles, my mind kept reminding me that there were million of children I had left behind who would have given anything to obtain the same opportunities I now had here in Canada. Since then, my mind was alert, I was focused and determined to rise above my past circumstances. I worked hard, sometimes I worked a lot harder than my age mates just to obtain the opportunity to catch up from the years I had missed in school, the languages I couldn’t speak and new culture I didn’t really understand.
I learned very quickly that for every problem there had to be a solution and that the solution had to be fast because time does not wait for anyone. I learned that for every person who bullied me, laughed at me because I looked a certain way, or I spoke with an accent, or made fun of me because I did something that was not cool, it was an opportunity to rise above and strengthen my focus towards my dreams.
By the time I graduated high school, I was captain of the soccer team (that’s another interesting story we can talk about in person), I finished high school with my age mates with a scholarship to St Thomas University where I completed a degree in Journalist with Honors in French. I had finally understood that the only thing that will help me or anyone succeed in life is not allowing any circumstances to define us, that we have the power to be elevated from every struggle and that no matter how impossible your dreams may seem, if you work hard, stay focus and remain persistent what once seemed impossible will be possible.
This mindset led me to become Miss New Brunswick, and the first from New Brunswick to win the title of Miss Canada International, Miss Canada Galaxy and Ms. Galaxy International. A journey that led me to becoming a UNICEF Canada Ambassador and allowed be to travel around the world as a speaker to inspire leaders, organizations and youth globally.
Today I dream of a world where young women are growing confidently, becoming incredible leaders, achieving more that our generations will achieve and changing the world for the better. But I know very well that this is not the case for many. Research is continuously showing that young women are facing clear obstacles in various areas of their lives, including personal development, education, leadership and many more areas.
While the majority of people in our societies are not fully aware of the challenges young women are facing today, I hear them loud and clear. Every time I speak at a University young women approach in tears, with gratitude to have heard my story, finally realizing that they are not alone, and they to can achieve their dreams. I take it to heart when parents approach me after speaking at a women’s conference or corporate function saying “I wish you could speak to my daughter”, “I wish you could tell my daughter that everything will be okay because she is going through a tough time right now”, “ I wish my daughter knew that there is a life after high school and a life beyond Facebook and social media bullying”… the testimonies go on and on.
And here we are… Through Elevate International we have an incredible opportunity to elevate women and girls in our country and around the world.
The foundation of Elevate International is a combination of all the realities that have shaped me to be the woman I am today and more. From dreaming big, to overcoming challenges, to become a leader and taking immense steps to making a difference in this world. I am dedicating my life to bring women and girls everything I have, everything I learned along the way and everything I wish I have had to make my journey less painful and more successful. With the dream and objective that our support will help them achieve more than we can ever imagine.
The world is facing enormous challenges at this moment, and if we do not come together a build a strong and safe future for women and children then what legacy are we building? The best way to respond to the challenges we are facing today is by doing something that will uplift the world, and the most impactful way to do that is by changing our circumstances today and elevating the next generation.
Our response to the challenges women and girls are facing locally and globally is Elevate International.
Solange Tuyishime Keita, President and CEO