Returning to Jamaica in the early 1980s for the first time in a decade was a real eye-opener for Karl Hale.
Living comfortably with his family in Toronto and being exposed to the sport of lawn tennis at a young age separated him from the homeland he left behind and the many social and economic challenges the Caribbean country faces.
“The first time I went back to Jamaica, I was really not prepared for the poverty that I saw,” said Hale, a former Jamaica tennis champion and coach. “I was just not comfortable with it. As I made frequent visits and started to grasp the enormity, I felt a need to give back because I have been very fortunate here in Canada.”
Seven years ago, Hale initiated a meeting with then Jamaica consul general, Anne-Marie Bonner, to explore ways in which he could contribute to the land of his birth.
“I was shocked when I arrived at the office and saw there were eight people there waiting for me instead of just the consul general,” said Hale, who founded and developed the Daniel Nestor Celebrity Charity event that has raised thousands of dollars for the Go for Gold Olympic program and North York General Hospital. “I knew right away that I had to deliver.”
Hale’s charitable interests are education and the health care sector and with the consulate’s support, Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation (HHJF) emerged with a mandate to create a world-class education system in the country. The organization’s motto is ‘Participate, Educate & Elevate’.
Close to $20,000 was raised in the inaugural fundraising gala in 2006 and about half the amount was donated to Cornwall Regional Hospital for the purchase of beds and other urgent medical necessities.
The organization’s focus is, however, on education where most of the $500,000 raised in the last six years has been allocated. A total of three basic schools have been built in Kingston, St. Elizabeth and Clarendon and the organization has teamed up with partners to enhance other basic schools across the country.
Four years ago, HHJF collaborated with the Treasure Beach Foundation to upgrade Sandy Bank Primary School. They painted the facility, erected a fence around the building, resurfaced the school yard and driveway and raised the literacy rate from 33 to 84 per cent.
“That’s one of the things I am most proud of,” said Hale who was raised on a Falmouth farm before coming to Canada at age eight. “Overall, we have done a good body of work and we have a lot of loyal people who support us, but there is a lot more to be done.
“Going forward, the organization is committed to developing a centre of excellence program to foster a 100 per cent literacy rate and graduation from the basic to high school level in St. Elizabeth. It’s my hope that this will be a model that can be replicated in the rest of Jamaica’s parishes…
“Jamaicans deserve the opportunity to create their wealth but, to do that, education is required.”
Hale, the first Canadian to capture the International Professional Tennis Registry Professional of the Year Award in 2005, returns to Jamaica at least twice a year to visit the projects and meet with Bonner who is the HHJF representative in Jamaica.
The September gala at the Donalda Club where Hale is the head tennis professional and the Appleton Estate Walk for Education walk-a-thon are the HHJF primary annual fundraisers.
Individuals interested in volunteering with the organization or making donations can visit the website, www.helpinghandsjamaica.com., for additional details.
Hale also gives back to the sport of tennis in Jamaica.
The former Davis Cup player and coach has donated millions of dollars in equipment to the local association to assist with the development of the game.
“Jamaica is still very close to my heart and I plan to retire there,” said the married father of two daughters who represented the country from 1988 to 1999 and again in 2004.
In 2007, Tennis Canada appointed Hale tournament director for the Rogers Cup which is the third largest competition behind Wimbledon and the United States Open grand slam events. In this role, he leads player relations, acts as the official spokesperson and liaises with the Sony Erickson Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
The 44-year-old, who coached the 2003 Canadian Federation Cup team that progressed to a World Group play-off tie against Austria, also represents Tennis Canada at tour-related meetings and functions.
“Being the tournament director for one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious tournaments has been a tremendous experience for me on a lot of different levels,” said Hale, who coached in Japan for five years. “I am a big fan of the sport and I have had the opportunity to meet the world’s top players.”
Hale’s older brother, Robert, who resides in the Cayman Islands, also represented Jamaica in tennis.
By RON FANFAIR