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Top 3 Reasons Carmen The Opera was Awesome

What an evening! I found myself completely mesmerized by the performance at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. That’s how I and 19 other GEMgirls and mentors got to spend our Saturday night, attending the final dress rehearsal of the Canadian Opera Company’s performance of Carmen, on April 9. The distinguishing reasons that made the breath-taking phenomenon so spectacular were the live orchestra along with the phenomenal performance. The icing on the cake was the appearance of the two most renowned Carmen’s in the world!

Live Orchestra. You’d think 3 hours of watching a performance would get boring, but I was hypnotized the way Orchestra and Chorus played Georges Bizet’s compositions, and the hours drifted away right in front of my eyes. What captivated me was the thrill and excitement of being taken on a musical journey and I believe the Orchestra and Chorus did justice to Bizet’s masterpiece, Carmen.

Phenomenal Performance. Even though it was a full dress rehearsal, it was nothing short of a flawless performance. The performers were effortlessly able to transport the entire audience back to the 1870’s, into the exciting, romantic, and tragic story.

Two in One. The appearance of two of the world’s most renowned Carmen’s made the performance extra special. How often does one get to see two of the five most famous Carmen’s to perform in one opera?

DSC_0389My special gratitude to Katherine Semcesen for not only familiarizing us with the classical architecture behind the venue but also answering our questions during the intermission. And a special thanks to all the GEM mentors for taking out their time to accompany the mentees.

This was my first experience attending an opera but definitely not the last. As for the Canadian Opera Company, you’ll always find me in the audience!

To see more photos from our special night out click here.

Written by GEMgirl Aliza Fatima


Mentorship + Art

Last weekend, two of our GEMgirls and their mentors attended The Mirvish performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the Princess of Whales Theatre. These tickets are a part of our unique Arts & Culture Program. The program, sponsored by the Phelan Foundation, purchases tickets to cultural events in the city for our mentees to attend with their mentor.

After the performance last weekend we received photos (see above) and an email from our program mentor, Jenna Smith that told GEM what a special event this had been for mentors and mentees to relax, to play together, and to bond.

“I wanted to start today off by thanking you all so much for the opportunity to take our girls to see Phantom of the Opera…I was so excited to be doing an activity with her where we could just be two good friends going to see a show together. The show was absolutely and unbelievably fantastic. From the music, to the acting/singing, the design of the set and special effects blew all of our expectations away! (Although I think Zarah was a little heartbroken…that the Phantom didn’t get to be with his true love in the end, she was really on team Phantom to win the love of Christine!) We had an amazing time, and I can’t thank you enough for the tickets. It was a beautiful afternoon and made me realize the importance of balancing a mentor/mentee relationship with work and play because it really allowed for me to appreciate her as my GEMgirl even more than I already do!”

This year was the first year at GEM where we have had resources to give away cultural event tickets to our mentees and their mentors. At GEM we believe in art as a social connector, and now we’re seeing that in action. So far our mentor and mentee pairs have attended a private film screening of an independent film called Shadeism, the National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliette, and The Phantom of the Opera. Through watching the pairs that have attended these events we have noticed the improved quality and depth of their relationships. A good mentorship, is like any other relationship, it requires trust, respect, and friendship. And we’re seeing our arts program help in fostering that friendship.






Growing up being a caramel coloured skin South Asian with a mother that looks middle-eastern, doesn’t always put you in the most comfortable position in society. Is she your daughter? Really? She doesnt look much like her sister! Oh well, she probably resembles her dad. If I had a dollar for every time I heard those lines, I’d probably have my own version of “Keeping up with Shanzah” by now.

Throughout the years as I’ve lived in Thorncliffe , I’ve realized that shadeism is a huge, huge problem but to the eyes of the world, it isn’t considered an “issue.” A few girls from the neighbouring community Flemington, decided to take action and do something about it which I really admire. They made an incredible documentary to get people aware about the issue and open their eyes to the bigger picture.

On Saturday November 21 2015, the GEM team planned for us to see a private screening of Shadeism: Digging Deeper at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Yes, this is the same TIFF that all of us have been yearning to go to. This private screening was exclusive to GEM girls only! I mean how often does that happen?

Before the event started, everyone got time to socialize amongst themselves and meet each other’s mentors. During all of this, I heard a lot about what the girls thought the film was going to be about. “Shadeism, definitely, is something we don’t hear a lot about. I believe people need to get over the idea that being a certain shade of a certain colour will make them better. I can’t wait to go in!” said Hira D. The screening itself had everyone excited and obviously popcorn was a plus because who doesn’t like snacks?

This documentary really got to me and I connected to it on so many levels. I always thought shadeism worked in a way where the majority thought “the whiter, the better” but I noticed in one of the cultures, being fair skinned was a problem as it is believed that the darker the woman, the more successful she’ll be.

The last few minutes were like a confidence booster because of the advice given from all the women in the film and not just because of being a woman of colour but being a woman in general. The following quote by Alexandra Elle was one of the greatest things I took away from the film:

“Our melanin will always make us marvelous. Just imagine what the sea of sisterhood would look like. Magic!”

2015-2016 GEM Program Launches this week!

We’ve been working hard all summer, even if it doesn’t look like it (see above!) and we’re so excited about the year ahead! We matched 28 amazing young GEMgirls with 29 GEMmentors. AND we just hired 6 new Interns! So next step is to kick-off the program! Friday September 18th we’re hosting our first GEMinar for our GEMgirls at the Aga Khan Museum.

We have planned for a great year ahead!

Our GEMinar Series – we have 8 workshops that are planned for this year. We have engaged amazing experts like Dr. Vietta Wilson who will teach us how to use our own biofeedback to deal with stress better and Lisa Orr who will teach our girls networking etiquette to help them land their next dream job.

Coffee Chats – This year we have 8 potential career information sessions planned for our girls. Each month our GEMgirls will have the opportunity to sign up for a Coffee Chat that’s held at a professional office and facilitated by professional women in that industry. We’ve got a great line-up: University Preparedness, Government, Accounting, Finance, Medicine, Marketing & Communications, Engineering and Law!

NEW! Arts & Culture Program – Our new program was created to inspire our GEMgirls and help to create deeper connections between our Mentees and Mentors. The program offers each girl a FREE memberships to the Aga Khan Museum, a private film screening at TIFF, and multiple sets of tickets to cultural events like the TSO, National Ballet, Soul Pepper Theatre and more.

NEW! Scholarships – Our mentors have come together to create 3 new scholarships for our GEMgirls this year. The scholarships will be awarded by a Mentor Scholarship Committee to GEMgirls that best embody the spirit of GEM.

NEW! Girls Summit – We are working with our partner Bishop Strachan School to create an event where Girls from all over Toronto come together to debate issues that are important to them. We’ve engaged a design thinker that will work with our GEMgirls and BSS girls to create a day that will inspire and influence!

NEW! GEM Video Series – We interviewed some of Toronto’s most accomplished women and asked them tough questions on camera! We’re launching the series on our website next month! We’re talking leadership, mentorship, balance and career. Stay tuned!

This promises to be our best year yet. If you’re reading this and want to get involved, we’d love your help. Contact our Project Manager Cassandra Hammett at cass@girlsementorship.com!

Thank you, Toronto Parapan Am Games!

As the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games have come to a close, so has my time volunteering with them during this past week.

I was lucky enough to be stationed at the Pan/Parapan Am Fields (PAF) once again, and work alongside the same group of volunteers I was with during Pan Am. It was wonderful to see all their faces and collaborate as a team a second time around!

I got the chance to see some football 5-a-side games at PAF, which I did not know much about beforehand. It is just like the football (soccer) game that would typically come to one’s mind. The exception: the athletes are visually impaired and wear blindfolds. The only members of the teams not wearing blindfolds are the goalkeepers and the team guides, who are positioned on both ends of the field and direct the players towards the target. Everyone watching the game must be absolutely silent, as the players rely on their hearing in order to hear their guides and the rattling sounds that a special ball makes during play. Even though Pan Am was over, its energy carried onto the Parapan Am Games, and I got to witness that as spectators cheered on their teams.

In all, the Toronto 2015 Games have been quite an adventure – a fun and exciting one! I am grateful for being given the opportunity to be one of the 23,000+ individuals chosen to volunteer for this historical event in Canadian and Pan/Parapan Am history.