JIS News

Their school, situated in Western Kingston has been called “the oasis of the West”, and for two weeks, 22 students from St. Peter Claver Primary School brought a little of that oasis to Canada, providing Canadians and Jamaicans alike with a little taste of the inimitable culture of Jamaica.
The 15 boys and seven girls, who make up the award-winning St. Peter Claver Ensemble, included five former students now attending secondary school, but who still perform with the group. They were accompanied by seven teachers, including Principal Margaret Bolt.
While in Canada, the ensemble toured sections of Ontario, visiting schools, churches and community centres, spreading Jamaican cheer and sunshine wherever they went. The talented group, aged 9 to 14, wowed their audiences with their repertoire of folk, gospel and religious songs, dancing, drumming and recitation of Louise Bennett poems.
Mrs. Bolt described her school, which is located in the Waltham Park Road area, as “situated in the inner-city, but it is not an inner-city school”. Visibly proud of her students, she noted that what “you’re seeing is natural talent; we just harness it”.
Instant celebrities wherever they went, the pint-sized musicians initially spent one week in Peterborough, about 100 miles east of Toronto, living with host families. During their stay they attended school with their Canadian counterparts and had the opportunity to go on field trips to a farm and a native Indian school, meeting members of the Ojibway tribe.
The visit to Canada was made possible by Jamaican Self-Help (JSH), a Canadian organization which sponsors several developmental projects in Kingston and Portland. In fact, the music programme at St. Peter Claver Primary is one such project.
“We are proud to have been supporting the music programme at St. Peter Claver Primary School,” said Marisa Kaczmarczyk, JSH’s Executive Director, at a concert in Peterborough, which is home to most of the members of JSH.
“As we know, music is so important for both children and adults. It stimulates creativity, enhances academic achievement, develops self-esteem and builds team spirit, and generally enhances quality of life,” she added.
Commenting on the group’s projects in Jamaica, the Executive Director said they are focused on education, leadership and youth. “Projects range from health promotion and education, to vocational training and remedial reading, to special youth leadership and community programmes,” she explained.
At the concert, Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Vivia Betton thanked members of JSH for their assistance to Jamaica. “It is truly actions of this nature that help to build bridges across borders and contacts between peoples. Cultural exchanges like this, strengthen partnerships and friendships between countries,” she noted.
Although most of the audience members at the concert were not able to understand when the children sang “Mouta Massy Liza, kiba yu mout,” they surely understood the beat and the catchy rhythm and were clapping along.
The audience might not also have understood 12 year-old Leon Simms’ rendition of Louise Bennett’s “Is Me”, but they certainly understood her expressions and the disdain she had for the person she was addressing when she said, “Muffy furrow, hurry come up Chimpanzee like yu.”
In Toronto, the students were real tourists, visiting the majestic Niagara Falls, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Hon. Alvin Curling and Toronto’s Chief of Police, Julian Fantino, who personally served them lunch. The Chief also made a bus available to the group during their visit. They also toured the Jamaican government agencies in Toronto – the Jamaican Consulate, Jamaica Information Service, Jamaica Tourist Board and the Jamaica Trade Commission/JAMPRO.
At a free concert in Toronto, Our Lady of Lourdes Church was packed for the little ones, who really did Jamaica proud.
A highlight of the evening was the viewing of a documentary, ‘Change From Within’, about the remarkable determination of Principal Margaret Bolt to put St. Peter Claver on the map. Directed and produced by Canadians Peter Farbridge and Anthony Noble, the documentary highlights how Mrs. Bolt has managed to turn around the school from the one she found when she walked through the gates for the first time the day after Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988, to the one it has now become.
Recalling that day, Mrs. Bolt said she found a school in shambles, not only from the Hurricane, but with children who were not learning, teachers not interested in teaching and a community, which did not care too much for the school. In fact, only three parents showed up for the first meeting with parents.
Fifteen years later, things are very different. Attendance is almost 100 per cent and St. Peter Claver’s children are very much interested in learning and do very well in the GSAT. Parents too have changed and are an integral part of the school. The Ministry of Education has dubbed the school, “the oasis of the West”.
Mrs. Bolt summed up the feelings of the children and the teachers when she told the Canadians thanks for “opening your hearts, arms and homes to us. You cannot understand the impact this will have on our community. It will be felt far and wide. This visit will touch many lives in the community of Waltham Park Road.”
The St. Peter Claver Ensemble touched the lives of many in Canada. Their visit will be remembered for a long time. The group left Canada on Sunday, April 25, and many here are asking when will they be coming back.

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