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Creatively funding education

Charles Hamilton was the first person in his family to achieve an undergraduate education and is now seeking to earn a master’s of public health after being accepted into the Europubhealth+master course — a two-year course in public health, delivered by six European universities, leading to a double master’s degree. Hamilton, who was accepted into the Erasmus Mundus Europubhealth+ program, will get to study at, at least two renowned schools of public health in Europe.

He would be the second person from The Bahamas (and the first male) to matriculate through the program. Arvis Mortimer was the first in the program. She, in turn, introduced Hamilton to the program two years ago, lighting the spark for Hamilton to seek entrance into the program, which he describes as an “amazing educational, cultural and network experience”.

Hamilton says just being accepted was an amazing opportunity.

“The dual master’s program will have me experience studies at the University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research (United Kingdom) in my first year; the EHESP School of Public Health (Rennes, France), where I will participate in research modules between my first and second year, and where I will also defend a thesis at the end of my second year; and the Jagiellonian University Medical College, in Krakow, Poland, for specialization in governance of health systems in transition.”

Since its inception 10 years ago, the competitive program has had just over 250 alumni from over 70 countries who have participated in the course of study.

Hamilton was placed on a reserve list for a scholarship, however, he had to accept the offer to the program as a self-funded student to secure his place. He created a GoFundMe account to assist him in addressing his tuition gap for his first year of study, which will cost approximately $8,500 and needs to be paid before June 15 in order for him to complete his registration and access the documents necessary to process his student visa to begin his studies in September.

Since his creation of the GoFundMe account on March 24, he has raised $6,671 of his $8,800 goal through donations from 90 people. He’s shy of his goal by $2,129, which he needs to raise by Wednesday, May 31 to cover his remaining educational expenses and make the process easier.

“I see each donation as a person’s trust in me, and I plan to be accountable to every cent sent my way through reporting online,” he promised.

He is also saving and seeking grants/loans toward his remaining expenses to support his visa application, which is approximately $11,100 for living expenses over nine months.

“Being independent and hardworking, it is difficult to ask for help, but I believe an opportunity this big is worth fighting for,” said Hamilton. “I believe that your investment into my professional studies will see a significant return on investment for The Bahamas.”

Those interested in donating outside of GoFundMe can deposit funds to Scotiabank Account #004002512 at Wulff Road and Jerome Avenue in the name of Nikita Hamilton.

Hamilton’s passion and dedication for public health goes back further than university. At St. Andrew’s School, where he had received a full student scholarship nearly a decade ago, he and a friend planned a school-wide HIV/AIDS fundraiser as 16 and 17-year-olds. Prior to attending St. Andrew’s School, he was the top student to graduate from H.O. Nash Junior School.

He graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science in biomedical sciences, with honors, 2014.

Hamilton was able to complete his studies with government scholarships, as a national scholar and an RBC Royal Bank Canadian Lyford Cay Academic Merit Scholar.

He used his course of study to focus on science and health communication, but also spent a significant time in leadership positions on campus, eventually being elected to an executive position in the student union, where he had oversight of a $1.7 million budget and 50-plus staff, board members and volunteers. He chaired and coordinated a health and dental benefits package and coordinated the internal and external student union’s communication strategy. He also worked to lobby and address equity issues, including health issues, with marginalized groups.

Now seeking to pursue his master’s degree, he turned to the crowdfunding site as a way to get creative to help fund his degree. If he is unable to secure the necessary funding before the May 31 deadline, Hamilton said he will return the funds to donors.

Hamilton was the youngest person hired at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Bahamas and Turks and Caicos country office to immediately transition from an intern to consultant.

“I successfully managed many health communication activities and collaborated closely with international public health professionals and consultants to develop modules around public health strategies and health communication,” he said.

Hamilton said his strong aptitude and skillset as a communications professional with a biomedical, science background were vital in shaping many health strategies, policies and communication messages.

“With this in mind, my acceptance into the Europubhealth+ program comes at a crucial time, as the multi-year NHI Bahamas program being put forward by the government is being rolled out. I would be in the perfect position, after the completion of my studies, to engage with health networks in the country to further strengthen health policies, communication with the public and create a stronger and more robust health system for the people of The Bahamas,” he said.

Hamilton said, at the same time, the Europubhealth+ program would connect him with a global network to help him establish a multi-sectoral NGO (nongovernmental organization) following his studies, to provide ongoing support and personal development of health policy professionals in The Bahamas and the Caribbean.

“I strongly believe in being a ‘servant leader’ and giving back to my community. I plan to mentor individuals to consider fields in health policy, public health and health/risk communication, and act as a strong ambassador for The Bahamas while participating in my studies and practicums in Europe,” he said.

Hamilton says he wants to see The Bahamas progress beyond the point where people believe the only way they can contribute to the development of health and social issues is by being a doctor.

“Strong local health policy developers, health communicators and health consultants will be necessary for the country to advance in its long-term plans,” he said.

Hamilton believes the Europubhealth+ program complements his academic background, professional experience and unique skillset in public health policy and communication.

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