Thursday, April 28, 2016

Champion Household workers welcomed at King's House

GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year arrive at King's House with Shirley Pryce (2nd left), President of the  Jamaica Household Workers Union
The 2015 GraceKennedy Champion Household Worker Rosetta Steer and runners-up Jasmin Miller, Donna Elizabeth Smith, and Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) President Shirley Pryce were warmly received at King’s House last Friday by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen.  The company’s Communications Director Simone Clarke-Cooper and Executive Chef Mazie Miller accompanied the second set of winners, who demonstrated not only good housekeeping skills, but care and concern for their communities. 
GG Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen greets Donna Elizabeth Smith, 2nd Runner-Up while Rosetta Steer, GK Household Worker of the Year (in yellow) and 1st Runner-Up Jasmin Miller look on
The GG observed that household workers were invaluable to our productivity.  He said that the busiest of persons, including those in leadership positions, look forward to returning to their homes at the end of the day, and remarked that it was because of dedicated household workers that many of us could enjoy an orderly home. I mentioned that the sacrifices made by Fanny Ricketts, our family’s household worker of blessed memory, inspired me to propose this award, which was readily embraced by GraceKennedy

Nominated by the two diplomats for whom she does housekeeping, the dignified Rosetta Steer used some of her $350,000 prize money to complete her course in practical nursing. “It is hard to work and study,” she said, “but with prayer I am getting there.” Jasmin Miller is winding up her City & Guilds course in housekeeping, while mentoring children in her Spanish Town community. Donna Elizabeth Smith was nominated by media maven Fae Ellington, her next door neighbour, who noted her devotion as caregiver to a 103-year-old lady.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jamaica, rich in excellence

Observer Column excerpts - published MON 18 Apr 2016
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

While there was much pomp and ceremony at the opening of Parliament, there were other rich happenings last week, as we learned more about autism, discovered the wonderful Alston High School in Clarendon, and accompanied Champion Household Workers to King’s House.
On Wednesday, at the ‘Light it up Blue – Autism Awareness at UWI’, we saw the power of parental love, youth and experience, private and public sector collaboration.  Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid praised the parents who have had to bear virtually all the responsibility for their children’s challenges. 
Honoured to receive appreciation award on behalf of Digicel Foundation at UWI Autism Awareness event ... and be congratulated by Senator Ruel Reid, Minister of Education 

“As a society, we have not properly understood and treated with the condition of autism,” the Minister noted. “The time has come for inclusivity.”  He commended the work of the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA) who have been advocating for early testing of children so they can receive the appropriate guidance.
Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan, Jamaica’s internationally respected Developmental and Behavioural paediatrician, walked us through the numbers that revealed autism as being more common than we realise. Using recent US statistics, she said that one in every 42 boys, and one in every 189 girls are affected by autism.  She said this means it could be one boy in every primary school class and one girl in every school year.
How does autism present?  She explained that signs include difficulty in communicating, not looking persons in the eye and repetitive behaviour. Children with autism may be hyper-sensitive to sound, touch, taste smell.  She noted that this was a spectrum disorder as there are autistic savants, for example the wealthy artist with Jamaican roots, Stephen Wiltshire MBE.  
Toni-Ann Tucker, Exceptional Needs Coordinator at Liberty Academy (at the former Priory High School location) told us, “The most interesting people I have met have autism.”  She describes her approach as “operating in autism time – twice as much time, half as much done”, because her focus is on the child.  She says despite her training, she has to keep learning as “special education is dynamic”.  It is important, she notes to “manage the behaviour, not blame the behaviour.”  Thank goodness for teachers like Ms Tucker.
We then heard from the parent of a child with autism, Dr Gale Ford.  Her son was diagnosed early, and she told us, “I held my baby and promised him to do my best to make him a functional member of society.”  She was blessed with a loving caregiver who actually offered to accompany the child to pre-school.  After an attempt at home-schooling, her son was diagnosed with ADHD, and with treatment was able to attend a regular school.  He is now 13 years old, and will next year be at a new stage in his life, when skills training will be a consideration.
The students of Chancellor Hall, Block X and the UWI Chorale have been reaching out generously to JASA, raising considerable sums to help promote awareness.  It did our hearts proud to see the interest of these bright young students. Kudos to JASA co-founder Kathy Chang, who honoured Ms Lome Hvass of UNICEF, the Digicel Foundation, Wisynco and the UWI students for their unstinting support. 
Alston High’s Greenhouse
Students of Alston High treat us to a witty rap on the benefits of their new greenhouse.
The two-hour trip to Alston, Clarendon just beyond Spaldings, took us to the beautiful Alston High School where they showed us their flourishing new greenhouse.  The students were impeccably uniformed and welcoming, the speeches by Chairman Eric Green and Principal Headley Cross inspiring and to the point.  The best part of being chairman of the Digicel Foundation, which has been sponsoring several of these greenhouses, is that I am constantly reminded of the resourcefulness of fellow Jamaicans who just need that extra boost to create something wonderful. 
Despite challenges with water supply, the school has answered with what they describe as their ‘climate change initiative’, harvesting rain water and using drip irrigation and precisely applied nutrients to their first set of seedlings which arrived last November.  In the few short months since then, they have reaped 995 pounds of tomatoes and 559 pounds of sweet peppers from their greenhouse. 

Clearly Alston High has great leadership in Mr Cross and Vice Principal Mrs Latty-Johnson – the grounds are attractive and the students courteous. Mr Cross reminded us that agriculture “is a major platform for national growth”, and so his school is proud of the results gained by students of agricultural science.  Their greenhouse assists with their CSEC practicum, supplies their canteen and raises funds for the school through sales.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

“Look at me – I am special!”

Observer column for MON 11 April 2016 by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Their Excellencies Most Hon Sir Patrick and Lady Allen (centre) with Good Shepherd Founder Archbishop Charles Dufour and Representative of Vitas Healthcare 
As I write, the voices of the special needs children of Orange Bay, Portland are echoing in my mind: “Look at me – I am special!” We took a long walk of compassion last week, beginning in Florida, where we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Friends of Good Shepherd International, which supports various charities in Jamaica.  Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who with Lady Allen were guests of honour at the event, reminded us of an interesting legal case of Donoghue vs Stevenson in the UK in1932 which resulted in a significant legal ruling, with the judge declaring that people owe each other “a duty of care”.  He said this had echoes of Matthew 25:40 which reminds us of our Christian responsibility to protect and nurture each other.

Sir Patrick urged us to show more care in order to “hold the moral fabric of a nation together.”  He reminded us that no one is beyond redemption and congratulated Archbishop Dufour for establishing the Good Shepherd Foundation, and his sister Marie Dufour-Buteau for creating the philanthropic organisation.  The large audience, including Consul General Franz Hall, applauded heartily as the Governor General reminded them that Jamaica is a country of great promise, where the positives still outweigh the negatives.
As then Bishop of Montego Bay, Most Rev Charles Dufour had seen the plight of sufferers of HIV-AIDS, and decided to establish a hospice in 1996 to ease their discomfort in their final days.  Since then, the work of the Good Shepherd Foundation has blossomed into health care services, with the building of the huge Hope Health Teaching Clinic on the grounds of the Blessed Sacrament complex.

Mustard Seed’s Jacob’s Ladder
Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, Founder of Mustard Seed Communities (right) and colleagues, shows Mrs Catherine O'Brien the projects at Jacob's Ladder in Moneague, St. Ann

One of the charities supported by the Good Shepherd Foundation is Mustard Seed Communities, so it was serendipitous that I had a visit scheduled last Wednesday to the Mustard Seed Jacob’s Ladder project in Moneague, St. Ann.  I was accompanying Mrs Catherine O’Brien, wife of Digicel founder and chairman Denis O’Brien, patron of the Digicel Foundation, one of the largest private sector philanthropic organisations in Jamaica. 

“A joyous experience” was how Mrs O’Brien described her tour of Jacob’s Ladder, where over 300 special needs adults have been given permanent residence.  The founder, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon explained that many came from Mustard Seed homes for children, which they had to leave at age18.  “They would not have been able to survive on their own,” said the visionary priest, “and so we established this home with a farm, so it can become sustainable.”

The beautiful Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob’s Ladder, funded by the Digicel Foundation was abuzz with activity. Residents were creating jewelry, mats, and learning the basics of computing.  The cool hills are dotted with family-type residences, each with an adoration room, and we saw a group of US visitors hard at work building additional cottages. Board directors Thalia Lyn, David Silvera and Howard Mitchell, Mustard Seed Int’l Executive Director Father Garvin Augustine, administrator Denise Perkins, volunteers Mike Lyn and Linda Mitchell were also on hand to show us the farming activities: lush vegetables, goat, sheep and rabbit rearing.  They are on the verge of solving their water woes which will allow them to extend tree-planting and other projects.

ESP now in Portland
The Children at the Mickhail Betancourt Special Needs Centre of Excellence sing "Look at me - I am special!"

On Thursday, we journeyed to Orange Bay in Portland, where the Digicel Foundation opened the Mickhail Betancourt Centre of Excellence for Special Needs. It was an emotional event, as Denis O’Brien had requested that we name the Centre in honour of a young Digicel employee who had lost his life by drowning in Chepso, Portland last October. The opening was the primary reason that Catherine O’Brien was in Jamaica, as she wanted to pay tribute to this extraordinary young man, who at 23-years-old, had developed an IT programme to promote productivity at the company.

Mickhail’s father, Donovan Betancourt, a Digicel senior executive, fought back the tears as he spoke of his ‘hardworking, hard-playing’ son ‘who went that extra mile to care’. Donovan, wife Sheron and daughter Imani are an exemplary family, who have made a commitment to give long-term support to the Centre.

This is the second Early Stimulation Plus (ESP) Centre, a programme of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, led by the devoted Antonica Gunter Gayle, who has developed the East Kingston ESP Centre into a model.  Minister Shahine Robinson said her Government was committed to strengthening programmes for the disabled, and would make the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) into a corporate body.  

The location for the centre was secured through the perseverance of Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz while he was in opposition; he lauded Elizabeth Stair of the National Land Agency for assisting with the process. This special needs centre of excellence is the seventh of ten such centres sponsored by the Digicel Foundation; all will be completed in the course of this year. 
The most heart-warming moment of the event came when the children sang, “Look at me – I am special!”  This is a profound call, as we tend to overlook our special needs citizens, causing families to feel embarrassment and keep such children home, instead of ensuring that they benefit from well-equipped facilities which are now available in most parishes. 

Autism Awareness Month
April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA has planned several events. Please try to attend this Wednesday’s presentation on autism at the UWI Undercroft at 4pm. There are various types and levels of autism – the sooner this can be determined, the better for the child as there are now a wide range of programmes to guide parents so their children can enjoy fulfilling lives.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sen. Don Wehby Receives The International Entrepreneur Of The Year Award

Message from Christopher Chaplin

Congratulations Don Wehby! Congratulations to my friend and fellow Georgian, Senator Don Wehby STGC Class 1980 on receiving The International Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Philadelphia on April 5, 2016. 

It is a well earned and richly deserved honor and I was delighted to be on hand to celebrate. 

Also great to see fellow Georgian Ryan Mack.

Christopher Chaplin