In September 1993, Dina Epale boarded a plane from Cameroon, Africa to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to start his degree at the University College of Cape Breton – UCCB (now Cape Breton University – CBU). He recalls how shortly after landing in Sydney he began questioning if he had made the right choice. He was unsure if Cape Breton was the best fit but had high hopes.
Nevertheless, Dina quickly settled into the home of his mom’s cousin, ready to take on his journey which proved to be better than he had expected. He met lifelong friends, studied hard and had experiences he would never have dreamed of. In his second year at UCCB, Dina was elected President of the International Students Society and found supporting other students like himself was a passion. Until he graduated, Dina continued being very active on campus in a variety of roles.
At one point, even though he was incredibly happy, Dina was worried about affording school and investing in his own future. He was anxious about the costs associated with post-secondary education, especially the additional financial burden that weighs on international students. It was at that crucial moment Dina received the $350 C.W. MacDonald Memorial bursary. The money, which was donated by a stranger, deeply impacted him. It gave him hope and fueled his eagerness to succeed. Dina was afforded a great deal of support and direction while studying in Cape Breton and he was both honoured and humbled by the generosity.
In October 2021, Dina, who now lives in Ottawa with his wife and two children, saw CBU Political Science Professor, Tom Urbaniak, on a panel of political experts on CBC News Network. Dina, who graduated with a degree in Political Science, decided to contact Tom. He started discussing the idea of paying it forward by providing financial support for an international student. His passion to help others had grown since he was a student and he wanted to find a way to give back. This encounter with Tom Urbaniak came at the perfect time.
Dina’s original goal was to support one student, one time with either a $250 or $500 bursary. As he further explored his options, he decided he wanted to commit to a $500 bursary per year for at least five years, helping a new student each year. It was essential to Dina that his support goes to a student from either Africa or the Caribbean, to honour his African-Caribbean heritage. The first award was set to be in 2022, exactly 25 years since Dina graduated from UCCB.
As he learned more about the students at CBU today and how he could impact their future the way his was 25 years ago, Dina decided to name the award in honour and memory of his parents, Simon J. Epale, Ph.D and Mrs. Tessa E. Epale as well as his brother, Mr. Priso Epale – who all shared a passion for education and played integral roles in motivating others to pursue their dreams. The Epale Family Memorial Award was established as a proud tribute to their African and Caribbean heritage.
As the award came to life, Dina decided he wanted to offer family and friends the opportunity to support his goal. He asked more than 100 people to give and in just under six months raised more than $8,000 to support students at CBU over the next 5+ years.
The inaugural award was presented on October 27, 2022, to not one, but two international students from Africa who were involved in student life outside of academics alone. Peter Oyedijo and Dorothy Kuvuna Yaa were each awarded $500 to be used at their discretion to offset costs as CBU students. They were both active in international student life in ways that advanced the success of the international student experience in Cape Breton.
It all started 25 years ago when someone else’s generosity sparked a two-and-a-half-decade desire to give back. Today, Dina’s generosity is now changing the lives of many more students than he had hoped, like Peter and Dorothy, and he hopes to set in motion the success of more students’ futures, just by deciding it was his time to pay it forward.
To learn more about The Epale Family Memorial Award and/or to donate, check out www.theefma.ca.