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Schools in Jamaica a 'humbling experience'

IN TOUCH: Tanesha Westcarr, left, with Seymour Mattis and Dr Lorna Cork

‘TEACHERS IN Jamaica do a lot more with a lot less,’ according to education stalwart Seymour Mattis, who has just returned from spending five weeks visiting schools in the country as part of JET UK – the Jamaica Education Taskforce.

JET UK has been launched by teaching and other professionals in Britain who want to help schools across Jamaica in any way they can through fund raising initiatives via the Jamaican High Commission in the UK.

Mattis was speaking at the West Midlands Diaspora Conference feedback session organised by Dr Lorna Cork to discuss the findings of an education team who attended the 6th biennial Jamaican Diaspora conference in June.

Mattis, who runs a London-based not-for-profit company called Vital Education Enterprise and Training, told the session in Handsworth that visiting schools in Jamaica had been a truly humbling experience.

“To see the teachers working with so little, yet being so committed was very humbling,” said Mattis, a former material scientist and metallurgist who went into teaching 20 years ago.

“I would love teachers in this country to go out to Jamaica and see some of the conditions for themselves. They would come back with a different perspective.
“How can you educate children when it is raining and your classroom is flooding, or the school has no proper canteen or no library?”

When the conference meetings were over in Jamaica, many of the professionals who had attended from the UK, America or Canada, were invited to carry out a day of service at schools to meet staff and pupils.

“It was a superb idea,” explained Dr Cork, who is assistant coordinator of JET UK. “It gave us an opportunity to meet and mentor both teachers and pupils and see for ourselves the conditions at some of the schools.

“Teachers cannot transform their pupils’ education if the children are hungry and the building is so dilapidated they cannot work there.”

While entrepreneur Tanesha Westcarr, who attended the conference, fought back tears as she described the heavy burden one student she met was forced to carry because her mother was in prison.

“I found this out when I had asked the pupils what had been the best thing that had happened to them that year,” she said. “This girl told me that the only thing she wanted was for her mum to be free.”

Westcarr said she had remained in touch with the student and was trying to mentor her and stay engaged with her.

Other professionals who attended the session included Birmingham businesswoman Beverly Johnson, owner of JLB International Shipping. She explained how she was happy to organise charitable shipments, providing the charities were registered.

Wade Lyn, CBE, Honorary Consul for Jamaica, explained the role of his consular services office, based at his patty company Cleone Foods in Hockley.

Retired teacher Gilroy Brown said: “For such a small country, Jamaica has had a great global impact on the world. Everyone knows our music, but Jamaica has done and is still doing so much more than that.”