In November we travelled to Beaches Negril with our children. Beaches is an amazing resort that is consistently ranked as one of the top family resorts in the Caribbean. I wouldn't just recommend it to you for the sun, sand and exemplary service but because of their amazing corporate program called the Sandals Foundation. Through this foundation, Sandals helps residents of the islands they have resorts on in matters of the environment, education and community. This is precisely the kind of thing that will keep me as one of their customers.
Through the Sandals Foundation, we had the opportunity to visit a school in Jamaica. Owning a school supply business and having a great desire to see schools succeed is my passion. I couldn't miss this. I also wanted my children to see that not everyone has what they have. That there are schools that have no gym, no library, no smartboards or playgrounds. It was an opportunity to give my children an education they wouldn’t have got in the classroom. I expected to get an education of my own too but I did not expect I would meet such an inspiring person.
Meet Marcia Allen. Several years ago, Marcia noticed many small children wandering her neighbourhood with no where to go during the day. Most of these children were unable to attend school or daycare because of financial constraints. Some of them were bored, unruly, unsupervised, and losing precious early education time. Marcia decided to start a school for these children. Let that sink in. She started a school. Most of us have a tough time sticking to a diet. Starting a school would be difficult in Canada or the United States, but in Jamaica? Roughly 1.3 million tourists visit Jamaica every year, but most don’t see beyond the opulence of their resort. Although Jamaica has a developing economy, it is still a third world country that was severely affected by the last economic downturn. Start up loans are practically non-existent and Marcia received no government funding for her school. Despite the hurdles, Marcia persevered and opened ABC Learning Centre in 1993 with 15 students and two teachers.
Today, her school has grown to 84 children aged three to six, and four teachers. Her school is widely accepted to be one of the best in the area, yet despite being registered with the government she still receives no public funding. She is solely dependent on the small fees she collects from her parents. So what do you see at her school?
On the day we arrived it was a lovely day with a cool breeze. In a country this close to the equator though it is usually much warmer. 84 children and 4 teachers are crammed into a school that is no bigger than 500 square feet. There is a play structure outside but it long ago lost the swings and slide that went with it and now is just the supports. There are four chalkboards and one of them is riddled with holes that neighbourhood vandals put there when throwing rocks at the school. We ask Marcia about technology. She had a computer once she tells us, so that she could share technology with the children, but it was stolen a short while after she got it. It seems so bleak at first glance but there is beauty and hope beneath it all.
We were immediately struck by the exuberance of these children. They are beaming upon our arrival. As children are usually the first to break down barriers, my daughters are holding hands and playing with new friends within minutes.
The children look so sweet in their lavender uniforms (tell me why we don’t have uniforms in our schools again..*sigh* that’s another blog). Marcia calls recess and the children run out into the field to play. They chase each other and play clapping games. They are happy, happy children. You can not help but feel the love here. When the bell is rung (and I do mean a actual hand held bell) the children bolt for the entrance and line up. We are invited inside and they sing three beautiful songs for us. We are very privileged to have met these children. We now know them and as such, I feel the need to help our new friends.
Before I leave I ask Marcia if I can tell my readers about her. Maybe they can offer some assistance as well. Marcia could use the following for her school:
school supplies (pencils, erasers, notebooks)
teaching aids (calendars on walls, nouns, verbs, etc - primary level)
laptops (she needs something she can take with her at night to avoid theft)
baseballs, gloves, bats
financial assistance to provide healthy, nutritious meals
If you would like to send some of these items to Marcia or send her a money order you can send it to: ABC Learning Centre, Green Island P.O. Hanover, Jamaica W.I.
You can follow ABC Learning Centre on Facebook here to follow Marcia and her kids many successes.
If you would like to know more about Sandals Foundation click here.
Finally, there are many, many schools like Marcia’s in the Carribean that could use your help. As a guest in a foreign country, consider bringing a hostess gift. Supplies for a school nearby, clothes for children, and toiletries are always appreciated.
Thinking of heading to Cuba? Do it. You won’t be disappointed. The people are incredible, the scenery is breathtaking and the history is touchable. There are, however, a few things you should keep in mind to make your trip a little smoother.
Bring toilet paper or travel packs of facial tissue with you. Not every restroom will have this. Nobody likes drip drying.
Toilet seats are not mandatory. Who knew? Hotels have them but most public restrooms do not.
Carry lots of smaller denominations of pesos with you. Some public restrooms do have toilet paper but it is handed out sparingly by an attendant who should receive a tip.
Other places you will need to give tips: at the airport, your maid, your waiter, your taxi driver, your tour guide. If someone offers to take a picture of you, be prepared to tip them. You get the picture, no pun intended.
Bring your cash with you from home. When we asked where we could find a debit machine we received very blank stares. Very, very, blank. They apparently do not exist. We had to go into a bank....and line up....to get cash....from our Visa. This seemed so 1980’s to me. Anyway, it took time away from our sightseeing so next time we’ll bring all the cash we need from home and have it converted at the hotel into pesos.
Good food in Cuba does exist despite what you may have heard. Unfortunately, it does not exist everywhere. Since it can be a little hit and miss, come prepared. Throw those little packages of ketchup, salt, pepper, soy sauce, salad dressing and hot sauce in your bag.
Bring your own hairdryer. See this little number?
This was my hairdryer and it dried so slow it prompted a little hissy fit. “As if they can’t get a hair dryer a little stronger than this. I mean I realize there’s an embargo but my hair dryer at home is made in China. They’re on good terms with China, aren’t they? They can’t get a good blow dryer from China? As if.” This prompts my husband to roll his eyes in exasperation and leave the room to go get a drink. Occasionally, the princess in me likes to come out and play. If yours does too, bring a hair dryer.
Words you need to know:
We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you The Shit Show. Yes, that’s right, The Shit Show, where regular, happy family outings suddenly dissolve into chaos and knee-slapping hilarity ensues. Ok, maybe just the chaos. Either way, it’s a ongoing serial that happens to my family on a fairly frequent basis. Take last night for example.
My husband and I decided it was time to take the girls down to the canal for a skate. We live in Ottawa after all and the Rideau Canal is not only the world’s largest skating rink but it’s also been declared a World Heritage Site. As if that’s not enough, they also have Beaver Tails. If you don’t know what a Beaver Tail is then I just feel sad for you. Really.
So, while the kids are at school, we gather all the gear we’ll need. We stop on the way to pick them up and get hot drinks for everyone. Woo hoo, we are rocking this parent gig today. We grab the kids and they are giddy and all, “Thank you so much, you are the best parents ever to grace the planet. We’re not worthy” and we’re like, “Yeah, we know. We’ve got it all sewn up today”. Smugness is our undoing.
First, crossing the very, very busy road to get to the canal, I lead my children out into oncoming traffic in classic space cadet mode. I have no idea what I was thinking except clearly that red meant go. My husband is standing on the sidewalk shouting at me, cars are honking and my kids are looking at me like they have no idea who I am. I make it back to the sidewalk safely with my kids and my husband decides maybe it’s best if he crosses the road with them. Good call.
Before we hit the ice, the complaining starts. “This doesn’t look as big as last year,” says the oldest. “Ah, honey, it’s 7.8 kilometers long. Believe me it’s as big as last year.” “The ice doesn’t look as smooth as the arena.” “You have got to be kidding me,” I say, “Do you know how lucky you are to have this in your city?” “This is boring” she says. “We haven’t even hit the ice yet. How can you be bored?” Her eyes glazed over now, she is looking right through me. I have completely lost her attention.
We sit them down and start to help them get ready. My youngest starts to cry as soon as she gets her helmet on. Apparently her head has grown three sizes since Saturday when she was last skating. Then my oldest remembers she only has ankle socks on. “Oh well,” I say, “I told you to stop wearing those in October. We’re not going home now.” My husband helps her with her skates and the moment she stands up the tears start and the drama. “Ow, ow, ow, these are hurting me.” “Oh for heaven’s sake, what’s the matter now?” I bend down and my husband has her skates tied so tight, he may be cutting her circulation off. Apparently he thought he was tying skates for an NHL player. I fix her up and send her off. Not two seconds later she’s screaming again. “I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding.” Seriously. What the hell is going on here? She’s only skated ten feet, how on earth is she bleeding. I skate over and sure enough, she is. A scab from an old injury has come off on her leg. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I have a band-aid and we’re able to start moving.
The destination here is the Beaver Tails hut. We start out towards it and all is going well until the inevitable, “I have to go the the bathroom”. We are now midway between our starting point and our destination. There is a go hut near Beaver Tails so we encourage the kids to skate a little faster. Of course, because we have have two girls, I’m the lucky parent who gets to go in with them. I help with coats and snowpants and mittens and freakin’ hats to get them in their stalls and the next thing I hear is singing. When the singing starts, we’re not talking a quick pee here anymore. Oh yes, my children have decided they need to christen the canal. Both of them. Told you this was a......you get the point. Tick tock, tick tock, how many hours do mothers lose this way I wonder? At least my lucky husband is out in the fresh air while I’m suffocating holding 30 pounds of winter clothing and breathing less than fragrant air. Sigh. Why didn’t I have boys?
Finally, out on the canal again, we move to the Beaver Tails. For ten blissful minutes all is forgotten as we indulge in these warm, sugary bits of pastry heaven. Mmmmmmm.
On a sugar high, we start to head back. My youngest daughter takes my hand and we skate quietly along. The snow is falling softly around us. Finally, I think, this is the picture I had in my mind earlier in the day. Sweet time with my family.
“Mommy”, my daughter says in her tiny little voice, looking up at me lovingly.
“Awesome honey. Thanks for that”.
Maybe not quite what I had envisioned.