Twenty-five years ago, a group of Jamaican nationals in the Greater Toronto Area and their friends sponsored 13 basic schools in Jamaica.
The Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) Canada’s Adopt-A-School program now supports 308 schools from St. Mary in the north to Clarendon in the south and Portland in the east to Hanover in the west.
For a dollar a day, individuals or groups can participate in the 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.
Last year, PACE contributed $105,457 to the program along with $9,150 in orders for school supplies from Sangster’s Bookstore. In addition, the program benefitted from 15,000 specially designed workbooks donated by family physician, Dr. Ralph Masi.
At the organization’s annual general meeting last week, Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Sheila Sealy Monteith, acknowledged the significant contributions that PACE is making to early childhood education in Jamaica.
“As an organization, you have distinguished yourself by the role you have undertaken to play, the quality of services you have delivered, the impact of your work on individual institutions and on the larger society both in Jamaica and Canada,” she said. “Your success as an organization comes largely from the ability to discern where you have a comparative advantage and are best able to make a difference. It comes from former Prime Minister Edward Seaga and the founder, Dr. Mavis Burke, and strengthened over the 25 years of your existence that a solid education in the early years is the foundation of a progressive and productive society.”
While in Toronto in 1987 to celebrate Jamaica’s 25th independence anniversary with nationals, Seaga – who was the PM at the time – suggested the Diaspora community here should consider supporting early childhood education in the Caribbean island.
Lifelong educator, Dr. Burke, was ill and unable to attend the event, but she received a phone call early next morning informing her of Seaga’s request. PACE emerged and has become the most visible and consistent Jamaican charitable body in Canada.
It’s the only organization of its kind outside Jamaica that embraces early childhood education, raising thousands of dollars to help prepare kids between the ages of two and five for higher education.
Sealy Monteith said that PACE, by virtue of its credibility, transparency and high moral standard, is more than well equipped to be the conscience of Jamaican society when it comes to early childhood education.
“You will be the reminder of the pledges that we have made to secure our children’s future by investing in their present,” she said. “Your tangible expressions of support lead the way for others to follow. After 25 years, you have earned the right to be the watch guard and guardian of our children’s early years by dint of the investment which you make in them. Your continued vigilance of the steps which we make to realize our commitments will be important as is your practical support to the institutions and the programs of the government.”
Sealy Monteith donated $2,460 from birthday gifts last year to her alma mater, St. Thomas Church Basic School in Clarendon which she visited earlier this month.
“Apart from a family event which was the main reason for my visit, I can safely say that the highlight of my stay in Jamaica was the time I spent with the teachers and children on separate days in both the infant and primary schools I attended,” recalled Jamaica’s top diplomat in Canada. “It was such a pleasure to be there for morning devotions, to be the recipient of the courtesies and politeness of the children as they greeted me, to admire their beauty in their attractive uniforms, to spend a few minutes in each class reaffirming the importance of each of these precious children and expressing my support to the teachers… I kept in my mind my mantra that these children deserve the opportunities I had and much more. This is a new century and life ought to be much better.”
In the past year, PACE has received two exceptional gifts.
The Carpenters District Council of Ontario, with Jamaican-born Ucal Powell as its executive secretary-treasurer, donated $50,000 while the Royal Bank of Canada made a $20,000 presentation to the organization.
PACE president, Mary Anne Chambers, thanked local individuals and organizations for their generosity.
“I am struck by the hundreds of caring people who have reached out and continue to reach out to thousands of children,” said the former Ontario government minister. “They are volunteers, donors, event supporters and adopt-a-school sponsors. They themselves are very special gifts and while we ensure that there is accountability to them for the confidence they have placed in PACE as a connector and steward of their contributions, we know that it’s the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing good that keeps the relationship strong.”
The other executive members are Christine Williams (treasurer), Mary Bettencourt (secretary) and Fred Kennedy, Diana Burke, Dr. Vincent Conville, Lorna King and Dr. Rosemary Moodie (directors).
It’s estimated that PACE enriches and empowers the lives of almost 12,000 young children annually.
BY RON FANFAIR