It started in 1995 with the desire to do something to help Jamaican children and 10 years later, the Jamaica Basic School Foundation (JBSF), in addition to celebrating a decade of exemplary work, is pleased to have raised more than $15 million to support early childhood education in the island.
“It has really been worth it. When we go to Jamaica and see the children that have benefited, it really makes it all worthwhile”, says founder and chairman of the Foundation, Josephine Williams.
Thousands of Jamaican nationals gather at the Tooting Bec Common in London for the Jamaica Basic School Foundation’s annual family fun day.
“The JBSF was started to help children. I particularly wanted to do something with children in Jamaica. I wanted to help children because they are our future and you can watch them progress,” she adds.
Ms. Williams tells JIS News, that the idea for the Foundation came during a chat with former Jamaican High Commissioner to London Derrick Heaven, when she informed him of her desire to work with and raise funds for a children’s charity. Mr. Heaven suggested that she target basic schools. The idea appealed to her and she immediately started working on the first fund raising event, which was dinner and dance.
Ms. Williams admits that she had great ambitions for this first event and wanted it to coincide with Jamaicans Independence celebrations. She also wanted a very high profile special guest and as such, she invited late former Prime Minister Michael Manley.
The event, which was held at Caesars in Streatham, South London, was a huge success, with more than 350 persons in attendance. The charity ball has become an annual event and is one of the organization’s major fundraising activities, attracting some 700 Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica from across the United Kingdom.
“It was nerve wracking”, Ms. Williams says of that first charity dance. “It was very Jamaican and featured dancers in the national costume, the bandana. It was really, really good and all the Jamaican companies got involved and helped”, she recalls, noting that then Jamaican Trade Commissioner, Courtney Rattray, had assisted in organising the event.
The dinner and dance also brought the Foundation the recognition it needed with many of the persons who attended going on to become members of the JBSF. The patrons of the Foundation now include the Jamaican High Commissioner; influential trade unionist and Chancellor of the University of Technology, Sir Bill Morris; athlete Tessa Sanderson; footballer John Barnes and cricketer Courtney Walsh.
“We received many enquiries and many people attended and wanted to get involved in the charity; that’s how we got people involved. We realised that we now had to formalise everything and to apply for charity status (under UK regulations) so we decided to get professional people on board to guide us,” she adds.
Over the years, the Foundation’s balls have attracted high profile guest speakers such as Prime Minister P.J. Patterson; actor/singer Harry Belafonte, Sir Bill Morris, Ministers Portia Simpson Miller, Aloun Ndombet Assamba and Maxine Henry Wilson.
This year, to mark the 10th anniversary, Ms. Williams says that the Foundation is considering screening a film that will feature the schools and the children that have received assistance over the years. She is also planning “a special thank you” for the companies that have supported the JBSF.
“What we want to do is .to show people here what we have done and how the project has helped many schools and I would really like to say a big thank you to all the Jamaican companies that have been so very good to us”, she tells JIS News.
The Jamaica National Building Society is the Foundation’s main sponsor for the next three years, but the organization also receives support from a number of other local companies including National Commercial Bank, Victoria Mutual Building Society, Air Jamaica and the Jamaica Tourist Board. The UK-based Voice magazine is also a major sponsor.
In addition to the annual ball, the JBSF also stages a yearly family fun day. Ms. Williams says that the event, which last year attracted more than 22,000 persons, offers the opportunity for more people to be a part of the Foundation’s activities. “Families come to the fun day-mothers, fathers, children and grandmothers. It’s a total family event .it’s a real spirit of Jamaica,” she tells JIS News.
The Foundation works with the DRB Grant Foundation in Jamaica and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, which selects the schools to receive funding.
Ms. Williams welcomes the move by the Ministry to register all basic school and to ensure that they all meet set minimum standards. “It is a welcome decision and we will look at some of the schools we have helped in the past to ensure that they all meet the new standards,” she says.
Ms. Williams, who is originally from St. Elizabeth, has lived in the UK for the past 40 years. She is the mother of three girls and a boy, who have all been involved in the Foundation.
She proudly states that she has always been passionate about Jamaica and is always willing to offer assistance in any way that she can. In 2002, she received the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for her charitable work and commitment to Jamaica.