Being a teacher is an opportunity to change lives as alumna Kam Bahia (BEd ’08/MEd Psych ’19) is demonstrating. While a student athlete at the University of Regina (U of R) for five years, Bahia herself had life-changing experiences: “I was given life lessons on perseverance and balance,” she says. Education faculty Dr. Twyla Salm, Dr. Marc Spooner, and Dr. Ron Martin particularly demonstrated for Bahia “what education and passion are all about.”
Bahia has had many opportunities since to pass these lessons forward. With 12 years of teaching experience behind her, the Regina high school teacher has noted a rising “epidemic of self-doubt” among the youth.
“Each generation that passes through my classroom walls seems to be in more distress than the ones before. There is a common theme taking place: our youth are in crisis (for a multitude of reasons that exist now that never did when you or I were growing up). Decision making is rooted in our self-worth, but unfortunately, young people are facing an epidemic of self-doubt,” says Bahia.
Not one to passively observe problems, Bahia has reached out beyond the classroom walls to encourage, empower and equip youth by founding several youth initiatives. During some time spent in Toronto in 2017, she began the Bootcamps for Change initiative, which provides fitness classes for youth in shelters. In Regina, Bahia founded the I Am H.E.R. (Hopeful, Equipped, Resilient) Foundation in 2019, through which she offers workshops in elementary schools and high schools. Through this program, Bahia has opportunities for “raw” conversations about the real issues youth are facing. The I Am Her Foundation framed and inspired the U of R’s INSPIRE Young Leaders forum and is also behind Bahia’s latest conception: the Reverse School Bus Program, which she began in response to the current COVID-19 crisis.
Through the Reverse School Bus Program, Bahia is delivering meals to youth who rely on the school lunch programs in Regina. Bahia says, “When COVID-19 hit and schools closed, my first thought went to the vulnerable youth in our city. Knowing what I know as a teacher, and having witnessed the emotional crisis our youth are in, I worried about the students who not only lost out on a sense of structure and comfort, but as simple as it sounds, who lost out on one guaranteed meal a day that was provided through their school’s lunch program. During a time like this, a meal is one thing children or their guardians should not have to worry about. … Nutrition is the building block to emotional and physical well-being.”
To bring this program to life, Bahia collaborated with her brother, who is a co-owner of The Lobby Kitchen and Bar in Regina. Bahia says, “They too had to close their doors and were inundated with their own issues, but we decided to team up and use the inventory that was no longer being used for the restaurant business and provide hot delicious curb side meals for our most vulnerable youth.”
The program grew rapidly: “What started off as a few families, quickly turned into working with schools and Dream Brokers and providing anywhere from 50-350 hot lunches a week. The Lobby doubled down on compassion and provided their resources, staff, and kitchen to help get us started,” says Bahia.
This work has many heartwarming moments for Bahia: “If I could video record these deliveries, I think I would have everyone in tears. The kids will be waiting at the window, we pull up, and they start jumping and screaming, ‘The food is here! The food is here!’ Like children waiting for Santa during Christmas season. Makes you really appreciate the most basic areas of life. I have had families call me in tears, thanking me for this program because when schools closed down, they were worried about how they would provide a meal for their children. One child loved the jersey a driver was wearing. In that moment, the driver took the jersey off, and handed it to this young boy.”
The program made national news when Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Tam tweeted about the good work they were doing. Once the public became aware, there was an overwhelming response. Bahia says, “Our community started donating to our program. People from all over the city of Regina donated money and their time to help deliver meals. Our community is so rare—it’s so beautiful.” This generous, selfless response is what has surprised Bahia the most. “It just goes to show that in the deepest part of our being, the thing that gives us purpose and life is truly to give back.”
Bahia is grateful to live in Regina where people will go out of their way to help a stranger in need: “We have a community where people will literally give the shirt off their back; that’s something special. How lucky are we to call this place home? How lucky are those students who will be coming from all corners of the world to enroll at U of R to be able to experience this kind of generosity?”