The financial support that Jamaica’s basic schools receive through the Canadian-based Project for the Advancement of Early Childhood Education (PACE) is of inestimable worth truly beyond calculable value, says Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte.
PACE has adopted over 300 basic schools in Jamaica from St. Mary in the north to Clarendon in the south and Portland in the east to Hanover in the west. Each school has an average of 40 students.
The only organization of its kind outside Jamaica that embraces early childhood education, PACE has contributed thousands of dollars to help prepare kids between the ages of two and five for higher education over the past 24 years.
It’s estimated that the organization enriches and empowers the lives of almost 12,000 young children annually.
In her keynote address at PACE’s recent Strawberry Social event, Malahoo-Forte admitted that the Jamaican government has been unable to fully discharge its function to its citizens to provide the desired quality educational institutions that best facilitate a conducive learning environment for the nation’s children.
“The economic ill-health that has plagued us for so many years has impaired the government’s capacity to fully and effectively discharge its core functions as a government,” she said. “Until such time and until we regain sufficient financial health and even when we do, resources will be insufficient to meet the demands…I support childhood education because it is the foundation on which all other training is built.
“I am so happy that all of you have demonstrated a commitment to helping others. Some of you may not even have been the beneficiary of the kind of help that you are giving, but you have risen above the circumstances and you have answered a call. You are making the lives of people like myself who hold formal office so much easier. The support that your organization is providing through partnerships is to be commended and celebrated…You are a fine example of what results when one answers the call to serve others.”
Malahoo-Forte, a former judge and president of the Association of Resident Magistrates, said Jamaica is paying a heavy price for its failure to focus on early childhood education.
“The cost of that failure extends to the social ills that we are facing in society,” said the minister who is also responsible for Diaspora Affairs. “The high level of dysfunction that exists in the various segments of Jamaican society is costing us dearly.”
For a dollar a day, individuals or groups can participate in the organization’s Adopt-A-School core program. The annual $365 donation is sent to the sponsored school where the principal, community leaders and parents determine how the funds should be utilized to improve the educational institution.
PACE has developed two fully equipped mobile computer buses to ensure that Jamaican children can compete in the evolving technological arena; supported teacher training, book and nutritional programs and a toy drive and provided annual early childhood education scholarships in Canada and Jamaica.
The organization recognized its sponsors at the recent event which featured young vocalist and pianist Anastasia Johnson who performed at Carnegie Hall last year. The Adopt-A-School project started in 1991 with 13 basic schools.
“You play an extremely important role in helping to provide children with the foundation they need,” PACE president Mary Anne Chambers told the supporters. “You help to better the life of the children who attend the schools you support and you are giving those children hope for a brighter future.”
PACE presented a $365 cheque to Malahoo-Forte to deliver to Paul Island Primary School which is her alma mater.
As part of the fundraiser, PACE also presented the Helen Isobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award to poet and short story writer Olive Senior. PACE launched the $1,000 award, intended to encourage the development of literature for children up to seven years old, in November 2009 to commemorate National Child Day.
Senior’s book is titled Anna Carries Water.
“This is a serious topic since the vast majority of children in the non-industrialized countries of the world carry water for their families,” she said.
Toronto Police Service Sgt. Wanda DeCoste, who fell in love with Jamaica after her first visit last September, spoke of the humanitarian work she has done in some in the parishes in the 12 weeks she has spent on the island in the last eight months.
The service’s first female bi-racial First Nations member to hold the rank of Sergeant is collecting books and other educational material for a children’s project she has started.