by Jenny Svetec
For a young Torontonian in her 20s, Eugenia Duodu holds an impressive list of credentials: the Toronto Youth Cabinet 2010 Youth Worker of the Year; the Harry Jerome CIBC Academics Award; the David H. Farrar Graduate Scholarship in Chemistry; and the Society of Chemical Industry Merit Award. While earning both a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with high distinction and a Doctorate of Chemistry from the University of Toronto, she also directed a thriving non-profit organization and mentored youth at her home church, Church on the Queensway in Toronto, Ontario.
Eugenia first came to Church on the Queensway as a four-year-old child on the Sunday school bus. Reflecting on her life, Eugenia says, “My story starts with where I come from. I grew up in a single-parent home in a lower income community just west of Toronto. There, I started to feel a call on my life to help people. My mom says that even in daycare, if there were kids in trouble, I was trying to help them.”
At Church on the Queensway, Eugenia developed a passion to work with youth, especially those who were experiencing the challenges she encountered herself. At 17, however, Eugenia really struggled. Her relationship with God was affected by transitions at church, her part-time work, and life at home.
Always a diligent and bright student at school, Eugenia was encouraged by her science teachers to embrace academic challenges. One student teacher went so far as to nominate her to the summer mentorship medical program at the University of Toronto.
“It was amazing,” recalls Eugenia. “It exposed me to health sciences and showed me what university would be like. It solidified for me what I really wanted to study and that I could do this.”
From that point on, Eugenia pursued post-secondary education with determination. After winning full scholarships, she entered Life Sciences at the University of Toronto and then transitioned into chemistry to practise the science she loved.
While pursuing her post-secondary education, Eugenia also worked in community development for Toronto Community Housing and co-founded Creating Global Citizens, a program designed to assist marginalized youth leaders in Toronto with community-based solutions for sustainable living, both locally and globally. Between 2010 and 2012, Eugenia led humanitarian teams of young people to Ghana and Tanzania.
“My faith has shaped me, compelled me, and pushed me.”
Throughout her schooling, Eugenia’s search for a career that embraced her passion for youth and science seemed elusive. Then she discovered Visions of Science Network for Learning (VoSNL), a charitable organization that aims to advance the educational achievements and career aspirations of marginalized and under-represented youth in Canada through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics engagement. After volunteering for a few sessions, Eugenia was challenged by the executive director to lead the organization.
“It is the perfect intersection of what I love, the different components of who I am [and] all the experiences that I have had in my life. I am amazed. When I was sitting at those youth organization tables, I felt like, ‘Why aren’t you doing just this?’ When I was studying chemistry, I felt like, ‘Why aren’t you doing just science?’ To see both components come together [in] this organization is deeply satisfying.”
Eugenia has gained grants and science partners to help fund the program and to remove economic barriers for all participants. For her, it is all about growing community. One example is VoSNL’s work at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park.
“For three years now, Visions of Science has been building community there. We adapted curriculum geared directly to the student community, to bring hands-on science into a setting where youth can be engaged. We are positively shifting the culture as we engage students, encourage critical inquiry, and raise the standards of what the students believe they can achieve.”
Eugenia has had plenty of economic challenges on her journey. “I struggled a lot. I felt this deeply when I was speaking in Ghana. I was flooded with feelings of inadequacy in addressing these girls’ issues with poverty when I was struggling with poverty myself. I wondered how I could help these kids when I was in the same position, in the same personal struggle. How could I encourage others in community housing when I was living in the housing projects myself?”
Eugenia drew strength from her faith in God and from her friendships. “My faith in God helped me see that I was living here for a reason. I could relate to my community [through] my similar experiences. I could still pursue my dreams and the opportunities I was given … I cannot count the number of times that I wanted to give up, but I just kept going.
“Every champion needs people on the sidelines who are cheering you on. I have had those people in my life. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish. My support has come not only from my family, but also from the youth I work with. They are very appreciative of my efforts in their lives, and that inspires me to just keep going.”
Eugenia Duodu is an inspiring social entrepreneur who is making God famous by her love of science and her community. She is determined to impact her community through educational motivation and intentional engagement. Her love for science and for community rests on the faith she has developed through her journey. Faith in God is crucial for Eugenia. “My faith has shaped me, compelled me, and pushed me. I have been tested. If I walked away from my faith, I wouldn’t have the strength and peace of mind that I have. To be able to have horrible things happen and still be OK, to believe that God has everything under control—that comes from a faith that’s real.”
Jenny Svetec lives in Terrebonne, Que., with her husband, Paul, and their children. They are at Emmanuel Church serving the people of Montreal. Jenny’s weekly blog, “Love Came Down Bible Journey,” can be found at www.jaelspeg.me.This article appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and won a 2017 Word Guild award in the Profile/Human Interest category. © 2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.