The Chief Executive Officer of the Health Services Authority, Lizzette Yearwood, runs an organisation staffed by people from 28 different nationalities.
In the mid-80s, she was ensconced in another establishment that brought her face to face with people of many different nations – her UWC college in Wales.
Ms Yearwood is one of nearly 60 Caymanian UWC alumni.
UWC, formerly known as United World Colleges, has 12 schools and colleges worldwide, educating students aged between 2 and 19. In Cayman, students who attend UWC overseas are usually aged 16 to 18.
“I was the second person from the Cayman Islands who was sent overseas. The first was Linburgh Martin, also from the Brac,” said Ms Yearwood. “I heard about it from him, he graduated with me. The opportunity came up the next year. My principal at the time told me about it and I applied and was fortunate enough to be awarded the scholarship.
“I went to the Atlantic College in Wales. As you can imagine, that was huge cultural shift for me, going from the little island of Cayman Brac all the way to Wales. It was an absolutely amazing experience. I can truly say it shaped my entire life,” Ms Yearwood said.
She described the programme offered by UWC as one geared towards bringing together children from different countries and “through a very vigorous academic environment, really encouraging peace and international understanding”.
At Atlantic College, she went to classes and socialised with people from 70 countries, gaining insight into different cultures and ways of life – an experience she draws on today as she manages the diverse staff of the HSA.
At her UWC college, academically, students took six subjects for their International Baccalaureate, while on the social side, they were required to undertake community projects and volunteer work.
“On a weekly basis, we had to do some sort of social activity, going into the community and volunteering… At the college, we had beach rescue because the college was on a cliff and people would get stranded by incoming tides.
“You could volunteer in an orphanage, teaching kids to read – various things in order to focus on the social responsibility aspect,” she said.
Then, once a year, they were also required to undertake an intense service activity, such as painting a school or other volunteer work. Her major social activity was volunteer work at an orphanage where she taught children how to read at an academic camp, but she also took part in the beach rescues – perhaps already showing signs of her future career as a nurse.
By far the best part of being a UWC student was the interaction with so many people from so many backgrounds and cultures, Ms Yearwood said.
“It encourages a multicultural environment, you have to study with all the students from 70 different countries. It forces you to embrace your differences and also to celebrate your differences,” she said.
Students would put on skits and dances and make food from their own countries during culture weeks, so that fellow pupils could learn more about those countries.
The international atmosphere of the college also encouraged informal chats between friends about prejudices and mind sets.
“There are prejudices you never talk about openly but because you are friends with someone, you can put all this on the table and understand where this individual is coming from. It encourages you to challenge why you think a certain way – it really is about challenging why you believe what you believe and that is intertwined into the curriculum as well.
“It’s something I think that students benefit from, so when you go back to their communities, one person at a time, you try to change the world – that’s basically what it’s all about,” Ms Yearwood explained. “You talk to your family and friends about the experience and, little by little, the whole idea to spread some international understanding and peace around the world.”
Ms Yearwood’s scholarship was funded 100 per cent by the Aall Foundation. Other companies and individuals in Cayman now also provide scholarships, such as Maples and Calder, Deutsche Bank, the AALL Foundation and UWC alumnus Linburgh Martin, and the UWC alumni in Cayman also fundraises so that children from Cayman selected to attend a UWC college get full scholarships.
Two students from Cayman, Simon Watson from Cayman Brac and Tyleisha Galbraith from Grand Cayman, will be attending UWC schools overseas, in Italy and Canada, respectively.
Ms Yearwood’s daughter Kelsey is also a UWC alumna, having graduated from a college in Costa Rica.
“It’s a great interim step between high school and university,” Ms Yearwood said of UWC. “It’s a controlled environment, they are supervised, there is some structure. Some students, if they leave here and go straight into a university environment, without that structure, might not be as successful as they could be.”
She was assigned to a Welsh “link family” – a family away from home, with whom she is still in touch.
After completing her international baccalaureate between 1986 and 1988 at the college, which is based in St. Donat’s Castle, Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, Ms Yearwood went on to the University of Miami where she completed a bachelor of science in nursing and qualified in 1992. She worked at the Children’s Hospital in Miami before returning to Cayman Brac in 1993 where she worked in Faith Hospital, followed by a stint in London doing paediatric intensive care training before again returning to Cayman to work as a nurse until February 2000 when she moved into the field of quality assurance and risk management, in which she worked for three years.
Ms Yearwood became a business manager for the surgical directorate at the Cayman Islands Hospital where she worked for a year, before being appointed deputy CEO in 2004, becoming acting CEO the following year and confirmed as CEO of the Health Services Authority in late 2006.
She also sits on the board of UWC Cayman Islands, which holds fundraising events and selects students to be awarded scholarships to attend UWC schools overseas.
“It’s a way to give back, to ensure that other students have that opportunity to go off and study as well. The movement encourages the alumni to go back and give back to their country and be part of the movement to ensure that scholarships are made available to other individuals,” said Ms Yearwood.
This year’s fundraiser will be held on 13 July at the Arts and Recreation Centre in Camana Bay. “It’s a fun night, where they play games and we have a silent auction, it’s really a great time, we raise within the range of $10,000 to $18,000 each year to contribute towards those scholarships,” she said.
UWC’s Blue Jack Night fundraiser will be held on 13 July at the Arts and Recreation Centre at Camana Bay.