Holmedale GRANDMA, Community Builder, Biker, and Entrepreneur Commutes to work… In SAUDI ARABIA!

Many of you have met Sylvia Collins: she may have been you or your children’s driving instructor with Young Drivers and DriveWise; or Covid home caregiver for adults through Community Living; or 6-ticket welder for Teledyne Specialized Equipment, an international manufacturing company; or in training for Television Broadcasting at Mohawk College; or working for Global Television or Rogers Cable in several cities including coverage of Brantford Hockey; or a chicken plucker… really…

Ya, but… Saudi Arabia?

Or, you might have attended the Holmedale public event she created, the ‘Porch Party’ concept for the Neighbourhood Association and until recently was the Chair of the same organization. Now she is the Co-Treasurer for the Central Downtown Neighbourhood Association. Or, she has been the spokesperson for the Gift of Life and the Kidney Association. Or as a Bereavement Counsellor… Or that inspirational female motorcycle enthusiast who has put on over 30,000 kilometres towing a one-person camper behind her 1700 c.c. Victory Touring bike favouring the Northwest Territories. She named the bike ‘Winston’ to honour the Victory of the U.K. in 1945


Ya, but… Saudi Arabia?

Or as a Snare Drummer for the Paris Port Dover Pipe and Drum Band competing across Ontario and performing and placing second at the Worlds in Glasgow Scotland. Or performing in the ‘Heavy Events’ as the only Canadian (ranked 6th in Canada) and in her 40’s against women in their 20’s  in Scotland, where women are not allowed to compete formally, (you know, that stuff like ‘Caber Toss’ (throwing a tree in the air); ‘Sheaf Toss’ ( yes it sound like ‘sheep’ with a Scottish accent, but its a 16 pound bag of straw thrown by pitchfork over a 30-50 foot high bar- no animals were hurt in this event); ‘Stone Put’ and ‘Hammer Throw’ (what the Scotsmen do on weekends at local BBQs).

Did I mention that in order to prepare, she had to develop her strength and could leg press over 870 pounds?

Ya, but… Saudi Arabia?

OH Right!!! Here she is speaking Arabic to a couple of camels in the desert. Out of respect for Saudi customs, she frequently wears the ‘Abaya’, the cultural cover up that goes from neck to ankles and wrists.

And the camels? They laughed… unaccustomed to red-headed people…

Despite her well-informed, if eclectic, life experiences including several years as a single Mom dragging her kids around Brantford in a wagon, she had a calling.

Someone recognized the depth and diversity of her talents and asked if she would consider to be part of a cultural shift in the Mideast, specifically in Saudi Arabia. The Royal Kingdom had finally declared, after centuries of a culture of male dominance, that opportunities should be offered to women more equally. You can imagine the potential for pushback.

Sylvia was the answer. She was strong willed yet compassionate, communicative yet respectful, self-motivated yet a team player. and most importantly, committed to the same objectives for bettering the role of Saudi women. She flew several thousand miles across the ocean to teach women how to teach other women how to drive a car. This was a sea change, where most men not only had been the only drivers, but they had, to a great extent, limited training themselves. Further, many men were generationally uncomfortable learning from a woman, let alone being told what to do or not do while driving a car. Sylvia figured this was a one-time gig and requested a 3-month leave from her local Brantford employer. That was three years ago.

The success was immediately apparent and expanded in scope. Men were also trained as trainers. And then Sylvia came home. Indeed the need in Saudi Arabia accelerated. Hundreds of trainers created. You can do the math how that works out over the months as literally thousands of new drivers were created with new rules of the road and safety dictated by the Crown. Sylvia was next asked to create a program for training instructors to teach motorcycle riding, mind you the bikes were a wee bit smaller than her experience, at 125c.c.

The leave of absence was extended for additional trips and several years later Sylvia still commutes. anywhere from 3-6 months at a time.

Her next challenge is to bring her expertise to training and developing programs to another level. This time… semi-tractor driving with 53′ trailers. Not surprisingly, despite being asked to simply create the program for her instructors in Saudi Arabia, she is taking tractor trailer training back home here and acing it!

She flies out once more in November.

Ed. Note: Some North American truckers might be skeptical, but remember the 870 pound leg press? Watch your Six! 



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