Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Son-Son’s thank-you mango

Observer column for MON 29 JUN 2015 by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Lisa Lewis, former Chair, Digicel Foundation, embraced the Ministry of Education Enrichment Programme
“Son-Son” was worried.  Where was his teacher, Mrs. Nicholas?  The third-grader had been attending the cool, colourful enrichment centre at Horizon Park Primary in St. Catherine for over a year, and had gone from being a non-reader to a boy who loved words. Mrs Nicholas, the centre manager was always there, celebrating every new learning milestone with him, but today she was not at school.  He stood at the door, peeked through the keyhole and fretted.
Towards the end of the day, Son-Son walked dejectedly towards the school gate, only to see his long-lost teacher driving in. Mrs Nicholas, who was relating the story to our gathering at the Horizon Park prize-giving last Friday, explained that she gave the student that name because she had become so involved in his progress that she felt like his mother.  She had attended a training seminar that day, she explained to her relieved student – she had not deserted him.
The teacher gave the child a lift and when she reached home, she saw a lovely East Indian mango in the place where Son-Son had been seated. The next day he checked that she had got his present, saying he had wanted to give her something for a long time, so much did he appreciate her care. 
Presentation of a token of appreciation by Horizon Park Primary top student in the Digicel Foundation/USAID Enrichment Programme, Kenvanje Jones to Digicel Foundation Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin. Joining from left to right are: Michael Uylett, Chairman of the school board; Evadne Cowell, Reading Evaluation Specialist, Digicel Foundation and Lloyd Bennett, Principal, Horizon Park Primary. Occasion was the awards ceremony for students who have excelled in the Enrichment Programme which was held at the school on Friday, June 26. 
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'I feel like a star!'
No wonder Principal Lloyd Bennett says he tends to cry when he sees the achievements of the enrichment centre. His students are so alert and happy. Horizon Park has one of 97 such centres, a Ministry of Education programme started by Dr Michelle Meredith in 2009 and enthusiastically embraced by then Chairman of the Digicel Foundation Lisa Lewis. The USAID became a generous partner and the three organisations have joined together to implement the islandwide programme which has improved the reading and math skills of 37,000 primary school students over the past four years. 
The centres use technology to make learning fun – big screen videos, interactive whiteboards, and computer games, with colourful furniture to match, make them an oasis for the children.  Now they are skipping grade levels, and heads are held higher. 
Little Toni-Anne said, “I felt ashamed when I couldn’t read.  Now, I feel like a star!”  Kudos to the enthusiastic teachers islandwide who are sparking this pride in their pupils.
As this programme develops, it is up to us as parents, teachers, community activists, to shore up the confidence of our children.  On social media, we see that busy PSOJ president William Mahfood has been addressing school graduations at Eltham Park and Denbigh.  When we ask how he manages such engagements in his busy schedule, he says he makes the time “because I want to encourage the children, I want them to have hope.” 
How beautiful it was to hear New Horizon’s seven-year-old Ashley Gouldbourne read from Jeremiah Chapter 29: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 
Such are the words that will plant the confidence our children need to succeed.  Let us remember and make the time to affirm our precious little ones.

Friday, June 26, 2015

“Now is always the best time!” - Butch Hendrickson

Observer column for MON 22 June 2015 by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Butch Hendrickson - man of action!
It was 7.30 am, and folks were on time last Tuesday at the Courtleigh Hotel.  ‘Jamaica Time’ is evolving, especially when the speaker National Bakery Chairman Butch Hendrickson is giving advice on “How to successfully navigate the export minefield”. 
In introducing Butch, JEA President Marjory Kennedy noted that “all of us need to take a lesson” from the Hendrickson family. Indeed, the Hendrickson group started from a small bakery in St. Elizabeth and has grown exponentially because the family “plough back their gains into their businesses,” she said.
Butch explained: “I have only two assets: my customer base and my staff – everything else I can buy….If you think of your customers first, all decisions are easier.” For example, regardless of New Year’s Eve festivities, he says the bakery must operate on New Year’s Day. 
National Bakery’s burgeoning export business has taken them to the United Kingdom, the Eastern Caribbean, Canada and the US, particularly New York.  They concentrate on the wider market, not just Jamaicans, with 50% to 60% of their customers coming from the mainstream in England.
Butch encouraged his fellow exporters to share containers when shipping to smaller countries or markets.  National shares with Spur Tree Spices and he knows of other companies who do the same.
He advised that exporters could not solely depend on third parties to market their products.  “You have to stay on top of your distribution,” he warned. “We have to pull bread every three days.  If we didn’t, we would see our bread on the shelf beyond five days.” 
National's Sonya Linton
As a result of this, National took over their own distribution and Butch introduced his export manager Sonya Linton, who described some of her activities.  Always showing enthusiasm in her attitude and excellence in her implementation, Sonya uses technology to assist her in tracking the locations and quality of displays. 
“Most everyone has a camera in their phone,” notes Butch. “Take photos and send them to distributors right there on the spot.”
He emphasised the importance of quality: “It takes a lot of effort and time. If you’re not producing quality, don’t bother.  People’s love of Jamaica only goes so far!”
He explained that the packaging guidelines varied from country to country: “We have different packages for cream crackers because it has to be bilingual for Canada and the nutritional panel has to be changed for the US.  If you don’t follow these rules, there are hefty fines and you could end up having to dump an entire container!”
“You can only overcome by sheer quality and service,” he says.  “Sonya usually returns from a trip with an entire suitcase of samples – you just have to keep up!”
“There is nothing simple about business,” says Butch.  “You have to work it.  We are a part of the Jamaican society and you must give back.  You should actually invest more when people say things are bad.  The country’s best time is now – now is always the best time!”
He recommended that anyone who wants to do business with the Diaspora should take advice from Jamaica National’s Earl Jarrett: “We have taken a leaf from Jamaica National. You can’t do better than Earl Jarrett.  He can be more British than the Queen and more Jamaican than Busta!”
However, he admits that taxation is such a burden, that it is hard to be starting a business in these times.  William Mahfood, PSOJ President and Chairman of WISYNCO, commented that when comparing notes with one of his associates in the Dominican Republic, he discovered that they could get their product to Miami for what it costs him to get his to the ship, due to high energy and other costs.
Jamaican exporters are also being undercut by dishonest labelling with “Jamaican Style” products being manufactured in far flung countries with absolutely no Jamaican ingredients. To counter this, Marjory Kennedy noted that Brand Jamaica was being registered under the Madrid Protocol, which would give us protection in over 80 countries.