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.