Armand LaBarge knows the value of a good education. It helped him reach the top of the York Regional Police Service where he served as chief for eight years before retiring a year ago. He also understands that education and learning never stop, as he’s completing his PhD in Aboriginal Studies in Australia.
LaBarge also gets it that education is a right of which no one should be denied. He and his wife, Denise, have adopted Brooks Level Basic School in Stony Hill, Jamaica through the Project for the Advancement of Early Childhood Education (PACE) initiative which matches Canadians with Jamaica’s basic schools.
“Education allows an individual to put their full potential to maximum use because it gives us insight into the world around us and it provides us with a perspective (on) life,” LaBarge said in his keynote address at PACE’s annual fundraising brunch last Sunday. “Education enables us to convert information to knowledge and it also enables us to learn from the experiences of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from Rick Hansen and Terry Fox, from Dr. Herb Carnegie and Dr. Avis Glaze and from Barack Obama, to name a few.”
During his last trip to Jamaica in October 2010, LaBarge visited the school he and his wife adopted. He took with him several York Region police officers who, over the last four years, have used their vacation to go to the Caribbean island to assist the poor and orphans in Trench Town and other Kingston communities.
The YRPS adopted the missions after one of its officers – Davis Ahlowalia – was killed in a vehicular accident in Woodbridge in January 2007. Ahlowalia worked with the poor and disadvantaged in Jamaica and India and spearheaded a fundraising campaign for an orphanage in Jamaica with the Missionaries of the Poor, an organization founded by Father Richard Ho Lung in 1981.
“We took full advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with the principal, teachers and the 69 boys and 61 girls – ranging in age from three to six — that make up the student population,” said LaBarge. “It was inspiring to see these boys and girls, smartly dressed in their school uniforms, learning to write, read and count. A few weeks after the visit, my wife and I received a collection of paintings and drawings with thank you messages from the students. This almost brought tears to our eyes.
“As Canadians, we have so much to be thankful for. We have been given much and we have so much to give.”
LaBarge applauded PACE and other organizations in Canada for working to provide children with the tools they need, not only to survive, but also to succeed in a very competitive world.
“All children have a right to those basic things that are necessary to live and grow with dignity as human beings,” he said. “Children have a right to supportive families, to be protected from all forms of harm and to have access to food, clothing, housing and, most importantly, education.”
Last Sunday’s PACE brunch coincided with International Day of Children which was marked on November 20.
PACE has adopted close to 330 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. The only organization of its kind outside Jamaica that embraces early childhood education, PACE has contributed thousands of dollars over the past 24 years to help prepare kids between the ages of two and six for higher education.
It’s estimated that the organization enriches and empowers the lives of almost 12,000 young children annually.
For a dollar a day, individuals or groups can participate in PACE’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.
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 Adopt-A-School project started in 1991 with 13 basic schools.
A cheque for $20,000 was presented to PACE last Sunday on behalf of the Royal Bank of Canada by its recognition programs manager, Steve Richardson.
Through its incentive program to increase motivation, the bank rewards its employees with trips to idyllic locations, including Montego Bay, where the bank’s next performance convention takes place in January.