My husband and I just returned from a wonderful vacation to celebrate our upcoming 15th Anniversary. We enjoyed the company of great friends, amazing food, the Caribbean sunshine and a week of true relaxation. The resort where we stayed had a piano bar on site and a couple of the evenings we partook in the jolly singing of songs by an energetic musician tickling the ivories with tunes we all knew and loved. At one point, while flipping through the book of songs, I saw the song “We are the World”…I jokingly started assigning parts to all of our friends ensuring all the verses were covered. We had our own Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and I appointed myself as Cyndi Lauper, of course. While we never actually ended up singing this song it did bring back memories of this classic 80’s tune from my own youthful years.
The idea of these very popular musicians coming together for the good of humankind and creating a song which help provide funds to underdeveloped countries is still something that is in need, more than 30 years later. A good friend once said to me…”you should want my kid to do well in school because one day he/she might marry your kid and don’t you want to know that your kid is marrying someone who has the potential to do well?” (Thanks, Myrdin, for that advice!) At first I thought of it as a United States concern…and yes, I do want my kids to do well…and I want your kids to do well, too, because if they all meet in college somewhere they can do well together. But I am now taking a giant leap to say that we really should want the world to do well because with the global culture we live in it is highly likely that our children could easily end up with friends/spouses/roommates from other parts of the world on their journeys throughout life – and don’t we want them all to do well together?
So, while on our anniversary vacation, I participated in a trip to a local early childhood school to help promote literacy and learning with 8 other guests. We all boarded a bus for a 10-minute drive through the Jamaican countryside via a pothole-infested road to a facility that seemed hardly fit for 3-5 year old children. As we pulled up to a property surrounded by chain link fence with 2 buildings, an outdoor “classroom” and a play yard with nothing more than 1 or 2 soccer balls, I was immediately drawn in. These children have so little to help them succeed (or at least in terms of what we feel, as U.S. parents, is needed to succeed in U.S. schools) and yet they are still happy, confident and willing to learn. How can that be?
Each volunteer found a small picnic table waiting for us in the outdoor “classroom” (a thatch roof covered picnic like pavilion). We took a seat in 80+ degree heat and waited for our “class” to arrive. We each were assigned 4-5 children and we then spent the next hour working on alphabet worksheets, bug related worksheets (good thing I’m an expert on ants, grasshoppers and bees!) and reading. I worked with 4 bright five year olds, half of which were reading confidently already. They told me about their families, what they wanted to be when they grow up (one wanted to be a teacher), and what they liked to do in school. But the realization of what they are up against hit when the principal gave us a tour of the school and we were able to ask questions about the education system and schooling overall. There were 174 children enrolled in this 5 room school serving children from ages 2-5. Their largest class was the 4 year old class which had 58 children in one room with 2 teachers, where at least 6 kids shared one desk from 9am-230pm each day.
The hardest part of the day, for me, was when we got the tour of their school library…which was a 20×20 room with one window -with bars on it, one door and a skylight that offered light, but no ventilation. The room had two bookcases but were not filled with all books, 4 outdated computers (without speakers), a bookshelf of educational resources such as puzzles, flash cards, games and some toys that were scattered around the room….all for 174 kids.
But my heart began to smile again watching the pride these kids had in their school! They loved coming to school, they loved learning and they loved showing us how much they knew. To round out our visit they serenaded us with the sweetest songs full of enthusiasm and heart. We couldn’t have asked for a better thank you for the time we spent with them. We were then trampled with hugs (literally), genuine thanks and overwhelming gratitude for joining them all morning.
This school is lucky…it has been adopted by a Foundation that helps to support their needs and education. But I would be wrong to say I don’t think of all the other schools who don’t have this opportunity to have a Foundation help them find the resources they need to assist the children of this country at a chance at school. That is why it is so important to me, as a returning tourist in a beautiful country, to offer what I can give to a place that gives me so much joy. I just wish I could do more.
I left behind 5 new books for their library…but I plan to send more in the weeks ahead (in addition to those computer speakers they need – I have a pair doing nothing in my basement!). While I don’t think they need “more” to succeed, I think they do need those of us who “have” to think of those who “have-not” – even if it does seem a world away – because, after all, WE are the world and these are OUR children – each and every one of them.
For more information on the Sandals Foundation and how you can support their mission, visit www.sandalsfoundation.org