Monday, September 14, 2009

Genesis – a space to grow

David Hall, Genesis volunteer discusses plans with Board Chairman Donna Lowe.

Pauline Beaumont (right) meets with her caring Genesis team as they prepare for the new school year.

Jamaica Observer | MON 14 Sep 09 | by Jean Lowrie-Chin

I wondered why David Hall sounded so out of breath when he invited us to visit the new home of the Genesis Academy. Once we got there, we saw why. In eight short months, he and the dedicated school board had transformed a ramshackle building on a scrubby location at 38 South Camp Road, to a beautiful school, retrofitted to serve the needs of its intellectually challenged students, some of whom are in wheelchairs.

So last Monday on back-to-school day, 50 children who could not be accommodated in our regular school system were able to don their uniforms and head to classes. “You cannot imagine how much dignity a child feels when he knows he also has a school, a space to grow in,” says Maureen Webber whose 17-year-old son Brian attends the school.

Genesis Academy has been a blessing for Maureen who herself has been a tireless campaigner for children with disabilities. “My son is at the level of a two-year-old and is not yet potty-trained, so without a school like this, he would be locked up at home,” she says. “This is why I have been spending my birthdays each year, walking to raise funds so that other parents who cannot afford it, may get scholarships for their children.”

Webber who is the owner of Development Options, says her staff members have also been contributing to the school. “We realise that without this school, I would not be able to run a business!” says Maureen.

The Chairman of the Genesis Board, Donna Lowe has seen her son Jonathan grow and learn at the school to the point where he became Head boy and was able to graduate last year. She remembers when the founder of the school Pauline Beaumont approached her to say she would be starting a school for the intellectually challenged because she was not satisfied with the progress of her daughter at another school with a limited programme.

“Six years ago, my son was among the first five children attending school in Pauline’s living room,” she remembers. “I immediately saw an improvement in his self-confidence. Pauline taught the children math, language, comprehension and important life skills. They would prepare lunch in her kitchen and then eat together.”

Now Donna’s son has been able to obtain a drivers’ license after his second attempt, and is working at Suzie’s Bakery. “Our approach at the school is that each child is very different and when they reach the age of 16, they need to be part of the discussion on their future. It was then that my son expressed his love for cooking and baking, and I was able to get lessons for him.”

Now at the new location, home economics will be offered as a well equipped kitchen is being put in place. “When we decided last year that we would have to find a bigger location, we hardly knew where to start,” says Donna. “Thank God David Hall came on the scene as we would have had no school this September to accommodate the kids. He came here with the winner of a Fame & Fortune Game Show, said he wanted to help and attached himself to us!”

Donna describes the effort that went into obtaining the lease, gutting the old building, renovating and expanding it. “We have weekly meetings and David has driven the process. We are always wondering how this very busy man finds the time to do so much for us as well as donate to the project. He lives and breathes Genesis.”

Irish-Jamaican (he has his Jamaican citizenship) David Hall explains that his Godchild has Down syndrome so he was drawn to Genesis. Then earlier this year the first child of his sister in Ireland was also born with the syndrome. “That made me all the more committed,” he says.

The issue now is sustainability as the capacity for the school is 80 and there are now only 50 on the roll. The school is seeking help with funding for scholarships since there are many families who would dearly want to place their challenged children at Genesis.

“Even if companies don’t have the funds to donate, there are many ways they can help,” says David. “They could hire our graduates, they could donate services, for example deliveries, or in-kind items.” He disclosed that the school is getting the assistance of Information Minister Daryl Vaz in having some land cleared so they can begin a vegetable garden. “We want the school to become self-sufficient,” he says, “and this is a great way for the students to learn an important skill.”

Genesis is aptly named. My friend Faith Linton says the biblical book of Genesis reminds us, "We are God's masterpieces, made in His image and likeness. We are fit to be loved and to show God's character in our lives." How does Brian, with the mind of a two-year-old, stop throwing tantrums and begin to learn basic life skills, like feeding himself? Through the relentless search of his loving mother for the best solution for her child’s future, through the care of nurse’s aide Aunt Sally who must help him to the bathroom, and through the clean, cheerful surroundings of Genesis, conceived by Pauline Beaumont, a mother who created a school so that her child could have a better life.

David Hall says these ladies and chairman Donna Lowe inspire him to keep working at the school, as there is still much to be done. The passion to give the children the chance at being the best they can be, fires up these volunteers. To see the joy on their faces as they show the media through the building, one understands how important it is to discover in ourselves this heart for giving, the manifestation of the divine in all of us. From their benevolence comes a school that will empower the weak and preserve the livelihood of many parents.

It is difficult to believe that this school exists in the same country as the unspeakable Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre. The findings of the enquiry into the fire that took six young lives is a judgment not only on staff and security, but also on a society that could have spawned such hard hearts. Genesis gives us hope that eventually, good can overcome evil if ordinary Jamaicans decide to show the courage of their avowed faith.

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