Children are the most vulnerable members of society and in order for them to grow up and become positive contributing members, it is very important that they get a good start in life.
No one is more aware of this than the members of a Canadian-based charitable organisation set up to serve the children of Jamaica, and its President Mrs. Lorna King, who will receive the Order of Distinction (OD) on October 19, for her work with basic school children.
Speaking with JIS News, Mrs. King said she is honoured to be one of the persons who will receive a National Honour at King’s House on National Heroes Day.
“It came as a very, very pleasant surprise when I heard. I don’t know who recommended me, because no one has stepped forward to tell me,” she says.
It is not hard to see why Mrs. King would have been chosen for an award for her work with young children. As President of Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (Canada), or PACE Canada, as it is commonly known, she oversees an organisation dedicated to enriching the lives of basic school children, namely those between three and six years old.
Founded 22 years ago by Jamaican-born educator, Dr. Mavis Burke, who also served as its first President, PACE Canada tries to achieve its mandate of ‘Helping Young Children Excel’ in a variety of ways, such as finding Canadian sponsors to adopt basic schools in Jamaica.
According to Mrs. King, who hails from Nain, in St. Elizabeth, research shows that the first school a child attends is of critical importance to that child’s development.
“Therefore, that’s the age to get children involved in learning and if you have a good school environment, then 40 to 50 children or more will benefit. If you adopt one child, it’s only one child you’re assisting, but if you adopt a school, then it’s all the children in the school who will benefit. If you buy a fridge or a stove for the school, it’s all the children who will benefit from hot meals,” she points out.
The sponsorship for one basic school is approximately C$365 per year, or C$1.00 per day. At the moment, a total of 251 basic schools across Jamaica have been adopted through the Canadian group. This affects over 10,000 students, with more than C$90,000 (J$7 million) being into the early childhood sector annually. The schools have used their funds to purchase not only educational materials, but also to fix roofs, build walls, buy kitchen appliances and install sanitary conveniences.
President of Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE), in Canada, Mrs. Lorna King (second right), accepting a donation on behalf of the organization, from Air Canada’s Pat South (second left), while members of PACE look on.
Mrs. King has been with the organisation for almost eight years, first serving as Chair of PACE’s Adopt-A-School Committee for four years, before taking over the presidency in 2006.
“When I took over the Adopt-A-School Committee, we had 80 schools adopted. We grew by leaps and bounds. I was very enthused. I love the idea of adopting schools. Recently, after being at them for years, the Association of Black Law Enforcers finally adopted a school. Chief Bill Blair of the Toronto Police adopted a school this year. I am perpetually asking people to adopt a school,” she tells JIS News.
The assistance to the basic schools does not stop with the annual sponsorship. Many times sponsors send additional money, reading materials, educational materials and toys to their adopted schools.
Mrs. Raphaelita Walker, a member of PACE, has adopted two basic schools in Kingston – Charles Chin-Loy and Higholborn Street – and one in St. Catherine – Ellerslie Garden Basic School – with her husband, Gifford.
“Over the years we have given books, crayons, chalk, pencils, toys, and every two years we travel with PACE to Jamaica to visit schools and I get to see the children at my school. I am pleased when I see them and to see their faces light up when they see us. PACE is doing a good job,” says Mrs. Walker.
In 2002, to celebrate its 15th anniversary, the organisation launched its ‘Tech de Bus’ programme – a mobile computer lab that traverses the hills of St. Ann, going to different basic schools teaching the young ones how to use computers. In 2008, another bus was sent to Jamaica and ‘Tech De Bus II’ was launched.
Gifts of toys and books are also taken to the basic schools by members during the group’s biennial field trips to Jamaica.
One of the partnerships that the group has fostered is with the School of Early Childhood Faculty at George Brown College, situated in downtown Toronto. In 2003, the college was awarded a five-year project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), focused on improving Jamaica’s Early Childhood sector.
Professor at the college, Ms. Lynn Wilson, says one of the elements of the project was to find a Canadian charitable group with ties to Jamaica and PACE was the perfect fit. The two entities have collaborated on a number of projects over the years and the Professor says she is not surprised to hear that Mrs. King will be recognised for her work, because she is a gift to PACE and a gift to Jamaica.
“I am really excited about Lorna, because one of the things that struck me from our very first association with PACE has been her energy and enthusiasm. It always seems to me that no project was too small for Lorna. If there were barriers in the way she would just be able to figure out a way to fix that. She’s just an absolute force and I am really proud and pleased for her that her work will be acknowledged,” she says.
Professor Wilson also said PACE has benefited from the President’s knowledge and passion for young children.