Chapter Three – I am Exactly Where I Need to Be: Niyonella Kamera (She/Her)

2022-07-20

 |  Community Spotlight Series

“I am exactly where I need to be” are the words that Niyonella Kamera repeats to herself when faced with the challenges that life brings. As a 5th year Business and International Relations student at Western University, and the former Representation, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager (REDI) for The Starfish Canada, this belief has led her to incredible pursuits that confirm to her that everything happens for a reason. 

Niyonella Kamera (she/her), Former REDI Manager at The Starfish Canada.

Niyonella is currently completing an internship with Restaurant Brands International, residing on the lands of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, Haudenosaunee (Ho-den-no-show-nee), Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo Nations, colonially known as Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In this internship, Niyonella is responsible for strengthening the diversity and inclusion efforts of the company. Niyonella’s passion for diversity and inclusion work stems from her long-held desire to better understand and practice acceptance towards others and their stories. She has always been passionate about ensuring that everyone has a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space to learn, grow, and connect. 

This genuine excitement for learning about all of the different experiences that exist out in the world was rooted in her as a child. She remembers being a young girl, witnessing bullying on the playground for the first time, and not understanding why other kids couldn’t just be kind. Bullying and hate for others was something so foreign to her. To Niyonella, kindness and celebrating the beautiful differences innate in humanity has been the only way to live from the very beginning. As she’s moved through elementary to highschool to university, this is one of the beliefs that has remained central to how Niyonella moves through the world. This belief is why she leads the work that she does today; centering, celebrating, and amplifying the need for greater diversity and inclusion in all aspects of society. 

“I’m really a lover of learning about and understanding people’s different perspectives and all the ways that there are to live and exist in this world.”

A testament of Niyonella’s lifelong love for theatrics.

Niyonella, aged 8, indulges in what is likely a Junie B. Jones novel.

Niyonella also finds immense joy through all things writing, reading, and storytelling. Her love of writing is all encompassing and integral to who she is:“Just writing things out is my MO (Modus Operandi).” When she was in the third grade, she wrote a play called, “The Adventures of Anne Marie’s Forest Magic”, holding auditions for actors amongst her peers, and eventually, performing the play in front of her class. To this day, she still finds entertainment in her childhood stories, reading out loud her old works with close friends as a hilarious pastime. Perhaps one day she’ll publish her anthology, but unfortunately, no exclusive sneak peaks were shared with us at this time. 

Nowadays, Niyonella loves spending time baking delicious treats, reading juicy novels, and is also a fellow Swiftie, finding joy through learning new Taylor Swift songs to play on her keyboard. It’s safe to say that she isn’t “shaking off” her passion for diversity and inclusion work  anytime soon.

Pies, People and Perspective

When talking about the importance of community and connection, Niyonella brought forward a pie metaphor that comes as no surprise due to her love of baking. Let’s explore it together: Think of your favourite pie. Bask in its scent. Is it sweet or savoury? Perhaps it’s apple, lemon meringue or maybe it’s even chicken pot pie. You’re sharing this pie with all of your loved ones and someone offers to slice the pie into servings. Now, if one individual has a bigger slice, another would have a smaller slice because there’s less pie left. How would that make you feel?

Niyonella went on to share that while one person receiving a smaller piece of the delicious treat may not be a big deal when it comes to pie, it matters when it comes to sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. If one group of people is constantly getting served a “bigger piece of the pie”, then another group suffers, because they are being offered less. Both equal and equitable opportunities, resources, knowledge and more have to be offered to every group a part of society. When one group is thriving, others must thrive alongside them. It is Niyonella’s mission in life to make sure that everyone is uplifted and given equal and equitable access to the opportunities that life brings.

“We all live on this Earth and so one’s success is everyone’s success and one’s shortcomings is everyone’s shortcomings.”

Niyonella’s research with the UNHCR helped support the drafting of “People Forced to Flee” by Ninette Kelley.

Niyonella believes in the power of empathy and positivity in order to make this work possible. For her, connection is all about seeing an individual or a group of people for who they truly are. Her personal philosophy is to assume nothing about anyone when they first meet, and to leave all prejudices and preconceptions at the door. She is committed to unlearning the biases that she’s been taught and being really conscious of everything she brings to the table in order to form meaningful connections with others.

“By really channeling empathy and working through that, we can build great connections and build communities where people feel like they belong and that they’re right where they need to be.” 

Niyonella with long-time friends— her community.

She also notes that community and connection have to be overwhelmingly positive. She questions whether true community is present if there is no comfort in the connections that one holds. She urges people to show up authentically in order to attract healthy and positive connections and community into one’s life. 

To Niyonella, community is togetherness. It’s about understanding that we are all different and choosing to move forward in empathy, understanding, and acceptance in order to foster strong and resilient connections and communities.

Centering Rest and Self Care

For Niyonella, rest and self care are found in the small things that she does everyday. Sometimes it’s as simple as beginning a new day; waking up, brushing her teeth, and going back to bed. On those days, she replays a reminder to herself in her head that if she could’ve done better and accomplished more then she would have. “Everything happens for a reason, and if you needed to be somewhere else in your life, you would be there, and I have to accept that if I’m not there, it’s because I’m not supposed to be.” Her other rest and self care tactics include stepping away from her desk and devices for a period of time to truly unplug, go for a walk or take a refreshing nap.

Niyonella feels empowered and inspired by the people in her life that see the best in her. She credits her family and friends for always cheering her on and supporting her during difficult times. This is what has encouraged her to go out into the world and support others in the same way she has been supported, always encouraging everyone to see the best in each other.

Niyonella pictured with her biggest fans, Mom and Dad.

When Niyonella first began her sustainability journey, she battled doubts that this space wasn’t for her because she didn’t fit the typical environmentalist mold; vegan, hikes every weekend, and so on. Her previous experience within the sustainability space was limited to her involvement in Eco Kids Club in elementary school. But she had an interest, and she was developing a passion. “There is no one right way to be in this world and to be in this space.” To Niyonella, every little bit you do for sustainability counts. If you’re taking action with a good heart, pure intentions, and a willingness to learn, that’s all that matters. 

Niyonella’s last nugget of wisdom arrives in how she centers joy and gratitude on a daily basis.

“I am finding different ways to show up for myself every day.”

Getting back into reading, finding quiet moments of reflection during her commute to work looking out across beautiful Lake Ontario, and people watching are the simple things that keep her happy and grateful. At the end of the day, these moments of joy prove to her that she has and will always be guided to exactly where she is meant to be.

Niyonella enjoying the Indian Ocean in her family’s home country of Tanzania.

This article was written by Victoria Lim, Writer at The Starfish Canada, and edited by Micaela Yawney, Editor-in-Chief at The Starfish Canada. Endless gratitude to Niyonella for allowing us to share your story in today’s article. Stay tuned to our Youth Journal over the next few weeks as we introduce more incredible individuals from our community within this series. Thanks for reading Chapter Three of the Stories to Empower: The Starfish Community Spotlight Series!