Even after visiting many schools in Liberia for Right to Play, I wasn’t prepared for what I would see when I did a similar outing in Jamaica. Maybe because Africa is farther. Maybe I equate the Caribbean with vacations. You see photos of soft beaches, tropical drinks and killer sunsets and think everyone must live a resort lifestyle. Whatever the excuse, it’s embarrassing that I’ve been so blasé and undereducated.
The Caribbean has a high instance of teenage pregnancy. Of cholera. Violence. And natural disasters leaving babies without parents and kids without drinking water or schools. Unfortunately, as aid organizations try and fix the first few problems, hurricanes keep coming along to make things challenging again.
In partnership with the Sandals Foundation, my son and I visited Cove Elementary School near Negril, Jamaica. The cinder block structure was down an unpaved road littered with goats and locals ready to sell plantains out of corrugated steel stands. As we approached, beaming faces peeked around corners and from behind a makeshift soccer net on the lawn.
The kids sang for us as I watched their lunch – a big pot of rice – being prepared in the tiny kitchen. Uniforms are worn by most kids and it was explained to us that every school is different. “Because if someone is violent towards a rival school you can identify where they are from.” And I thought they just looked sharp. Likely the kids also do not own many additional garments so uniforms become very economical.
Inside the school, I was taken aback. I knew that Scholastic had partnered with the Sandals Foundation to supply over 140,000 books to the region last year alone, but the books were the only bright and shiny things in the school besides sunny paintings on the cinder blocks. Teachers made up for a lack of learning aids by painting rainbows and inspirational phrases on the wall. The computers were what my own elementary school would have had 20 years ago. What the school lacked in tools was made up for in discipline and the teachers who passionately helped the kids learn.
We were each assigned a student and spent the morning reading books and doing worksheets with them. Wallace has a brother and a sister, loves blue and the number 5. He seemed a bit scared of me, and in truth I think I was more scared of him. I came from a rich country with oodles of resources and opportunities. Two weeks ago his house narrowly missed being flattened by Hurricane Matthew. Somehow the bag of school supplies and musical instruments I brought with me to donate via Pack for a Purpose seemed pretty lame. They need much more. More books. Teachers. Soccer balls. Activities that will keep them safe and engaged after school. And thankfully, this is what the Sandals Foundation does.
Like with the kids in Africa who rarely saw photos of themselves, we took lots of pictures of the kids and delighted them by showing them the results. As we bonded, the smiles grew bigger and the attention we paid them seemed to lift the kids to new levels. Outside after our learning time, the games began. Soccer is a universal, unifying sport and our kids played until they had no more sweat to produce! Teammates high-fived, scored goals and one little boy split his pants making an epic save. We all laughed, but I worried that his family may not be able to afford to buy thread once the giggles subsided.
I noticed a few of the boys adding unique shirts on top of their school clothes to fit in better with the visiting kids. My son bonded dramatically with his team and didn’t want to leave. If only I had brought jerseys. Or Canadian flag pins. Or good health for their future, stronger houses, people to love them when they become orphaned. I can’t personally do all of that. But the Sandals Foundation can.
There are 5 distinct programs supported by the Sandals Foundation.
- The Game changer Program builds sports courts and funds after-school sports programs. This gives safe spaces to underprivileged kids and helps them develop life skills.
- The Whoa Program stands for ‘women helping others achieve’. Partnering with the Marley Foundation, they empower the women and in turn, empower their communities. Health, sports and education are focuses, as are skills training and cervical cancer treatment. Computers are purchased for pregnant teen girls so that they can finish school. Additionally, female farmers are trained and supported through tourism, as they are able to sell their produce to Sandals and Beaches Resorts.
- The Sick kids Program in partnership with Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto helps build the capacity of doctors and nurses. In particular, the program has enhanced communications between the islands with regards to paediatric cancer.
- Hurricane Relief. Most recently in Haiti and Bahamas after devastating hurricanes, cholera epidemics ensued and many kids and babies were orphaned. The foundation feeds and cares for these children.
- Outfitting Caribbean Schools. Often there is no equipment or funding for education. Scholastic and School Specialty partner with the Sandals Foundation to help elevate the resources of the schools. School Specialty alone has committed to donate $150,000 worth of supplies to the schools this year, and every visitor to Sandals and Beaches Resorts is invited to bring an additional bag of supplies to the region.
Until November 28th, UrbanMommies is helping the foundation to raise as many funds as possible, in particular, to support victims of Hurricane Matthew. Please help. Even $5 can make a huge difference. I want to go back and look into the eyes of each and every child we met at Cove Elementary with confidence that their futures will be filled with opportunity and success. One world. One Heart. One Love.
Please donate here and if you mention UrbanMommies in the comments we will match every donation you make!!