Promises and possibilities - the EU and JSIF make a difference at Albion Basic School in St James (25/01/2011)

For 20 years, the inner-city communities of Norwood, Hendon, Glendevon and Albion, have been waiting for a basic school conducive to 21st century early childhood education.

And just when they thought the future of their children was confined to a 20 ft x 23 ft lunch room at the rear of the Albion Moravian Church, the European Union changed that path.

The EU through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) have provided funding to the tune of J$29 million for the construction of a new building for the 23 students, aged three to five years old. On completion the school can accommodate 70 children.

“If we were to consider the standards of the Early Childhood Commission, we wouldn’t be able to stay in the current building much longer,” asserts the school’s Principal Grace Gordon.

Without having her describe the situation, the worn cracked tiles on the floor speak for themselves, and while the walls are painted and clean, the packed-to-capacity room that houses three different classes showed semblance of tightness and discomfort.

“We hold three different classes in the small space; we have no office, no sick bay and no lunch room,” revealed Mrs. Gordon. Now fact, Mrs. Gordon can look forward to the building of three classrooms, bathroom facilities, an administrative office, a fully-equipped kitchen and a play area for the children on completion.

The EU’s intervention is like manna from heaven and the parents, many of them single mothers, fighting hard to pay school feeS, bear witness to that.

“Education is very important, I didn’t get as much, and what I never got I want for my children,” said Taka Thorpe, a single mother of three who has one child attending the school.

Thorpe lives very near to school, and is convinced, “Many parents will want to push out their children to come to school”.

One of the challenges the government faces is getting some parents to send their children to school regularly. This attitude has been attributed to the high rate of illiteracy in the country. The EU in its thrust to support early childhood education has provided funding for the rehabilitation and upgrading of a number of schools.

“ADDITIONAL FUNDS FOR Our ongoing Poverty Reduction Programme II (EU PRP II) is to be approved in Brussels, Belgium, later this year, to further   community development  in Jamaica,”  Marco Mazzocchi Alemanni, Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Jamaica says.

He said that JSIF is currently compiling a list of proposals, with potentially more projects for St. James.

The projects already funded are  having an impact on the parish and Taka Thorpe will enroll her son at the new Albion Basic School in September. This is something her four year old daughter Omelia Williams is excited about.

“Mi a four,” said the outspoken youngster, emphasizing her age with her fingers in the air.

“Mi bredda Aljay going to start down yah,” she boasted innocently.

When little Omelia first started attending the school she wouldn’t speak to anyone, said the Principal. “And she was very angry often times; whenever she spoke, she was loud, but now she is happy, bubbling with joy and very outspoken.”

Omelia is from a community that is home to firing of gunshots. Her ears have become attuned, and even “When I say, it’s a bike making the sound, she says no, it’s a gun,” said her mother.

For Shamar Wright, another mother of three, the Albion Basic School has been pivotal for her daughter, “Even under the current conditions, she is doing pretty well”.

She lauds the work of the teachers whom she describes as caring and very concerned about the welfare of the children.

That comes as no surprise, as Grace Gordon admits that some of the parents find it extremely hard to pay for lunch to feed their children and we ensure they eat, “And sometimes the school fee doesn’t come in either”, she added.

Many of the parents are unemployed she argues, while the children are from volatile communities, broken homes, each having their own culture. “And we have to learn it to work with it.”

Within another month the new Albion Basic School should be turned over to the school administrators.

The Poverty Reduction Programme (PRP)-II, the 1.1 billion J$ Programme that funded this project, is an on-the-ground project aiming at delivering direct and concrete support to vulnerable and volatile communities. The programme promotes community based small infrastructure projects, like this one, where the community decides what their priorities are, put a project together, and make a contribution. PRP-II, mainly invests in small infrastructure projects for schools, but also rehabilitating roads, community centers, police stations, and water and sanitation projects will soon included in the pipeline. The Programme also finances summer camps, scholarships, internships, and gives grants of low amounts in favour of micro-projects. Through all those small scale projects, the European Union seeks to empower the Communities to organize themselves, and foster local development dynamics.

Contact:

Jodi Brown Lindo
Delegation of the European Commission to Jamaica
Belize, Turks and Caicos Islands and Cayman Islands
Telephone: 876 924 6333
Email: jodi.brown-lindo@eeas.europa.eu