July 15, 2024

Advancing Business Excellence

Pioneering Corporate Success

OCAD student aims to balance art, entrepreneurship, and identity in Toronto

On a sunny spring afternoon at Woodbine Beach in the Beaches community of Toronto, the buzz of Jet Skis fills the air. Amidst the activity, Mendos Yawa, a fourth-year student at Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD), works at the beach. He co-owns a watercraft rental business with friends, balancing it with several other jobs.

Beyond the responsibilities of his rental business, Yawa, 25, is immersed in a diverse journey encompassing his art, his entrepreneurship, and establishing a new life in Toronto.

Born in Kaduna, Nigeria, Yawa arrived in Canada with his brother in 2015. Since then, his life has been a flurry of new experiences and changes

Between keeping up with his studies, running the rental business, and clocking part-time hours as a line cook, Yawa pours himself into his art projects whenever he can find the time.

“Art has always been my passion. It is a way for me to express my experiences and emotions,” Yawa said. “Juggling academics, art, and entrepreneurship is not easy, but it is a journey I am fully committed to.”

While his artistic endeavours remains central to his life, Yawa entrepreneurial pursuits are just as important to him, and he’s good at prioritizing and staying focused on his goals.

“When things get overwhelming, I focus on the most immediate and important tasks first. I also rely on my friends and partners in the Jet Ski business to share the workload. Communication and teamwork are crucial,” he said.

Mendos Yawa, an art student at Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD), looks through the gallery entrance at the university on June 11, 2024. (Reya Shreya Rai/Centennial College)

Like many international students, Yawa’s life involves delicately balancing study and work.

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, by the end of 2023, Canada experienced a 63 per cent increase in international students studying in Canada over the past five years and an impressive growth of over 200 per cent in the last decade.

“Because I chose a field that is not directly linking me to a corporate job … it’s a field where I have to create my own work and publish my own work … so it’s more about decision-making and knowing how to plan out my situation.” he said.

Although he misses Nigeria, Yawa has a solid community of friends that helps him stay connected to his culture. This bond not only helps Yawa maintain a strong connection to his roots but also provides him with a sense of belonging.

“What I miss most about home is the food and the people — the energy is so vibrant and loud,” he said. 

Co-worker An Nguyen, the head chef at Ace Golf Bar in Leslieville, speaks highly of Yawa’s work ethic as a line cook. 

“He actively participates in our research and development sessions, offering feedback or his opinion on dish directions. His smile lights up the kitchen, contributing to a positive work environment. In general, he is just a very pleasant guy,” Nguyen said.

Mendos Yawa, an art student at Ontario College of Art & Design University in one of the art rooms.
Mendos Yawa, an art student at Ontario College of Art & Design University, works in an art room at the university on June 11, 2024. (Reya Shreya Rai/ Centennial College)

Approaching his final year at OCAD, Yawa is excited about his upcoming internship, tempered by concerns about his future as an artist.

Yawa’s story resonates with many young adults in their 20s in pursuit of dreams, passions, and self amidst the ever-changing landscape of young adulthood.

“He’s always been great at executing projects and absorbing the lessons from that process,” said Eliel Yawa, Mendos’s brother, who works in sales. “I’ve seen him persevere and overcome through sheer will.”

“Some days, I feel like I should have chosen something else (to study). But other days, I’m happy where I am, just because I have so much love for it,” Mendos said. “I feel like even if I don’t reach where I want to reach, I will still be content to some degree.”