Mon | Sep 21, 2020

Hard work reaps rewards

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole Collado, at York Castle Primary School library that she stocked with books.

“Sometimes,” said Nicole Collado, “you just need to listen.” It is a simple, yet profound statement. Often times a lot of us hear but not listen. Collado, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) at York Castle Primary School in St Ann, says she, during the course of her tenure, allowed herself to understand the needs of the students, rather than trying to push some prescribed methodologies.

“I allowed myself to mingle with the students,” Collado said. “My journey began from there.”

It has been gratifying, to say the least, and an experience that has given numerous life lessons to this youngster from Puerto Rico.

“What was striking,” she said. “Was that some students were either withdrawn, some aggressive and others defensive. I had to get an idea why this was so.”

According to her, the behaviour of these children was stemming from their physical environment – coming from single-parent homes, some from broken families – which was translating to these traits.

Patience was the key, she said, and acceptance by these children was critical. So Collado started by listening to them, lending an ear whenever time permitted, trying to address their concerns and provide solace.

She was assigned to the school in 2017 and since then she has been able to work with 22 students who, she said, have shown significant progress – additionally, she said, with the help of the teachers, they have been able to encourage parents to seek help for their children in case they (the teachers) notice any learning disabilities.

The school sits atop a hill in York Castle, in rural St Ann – as it is customary (if one can use this expression) all nuances of technology go off grid; which is both a blessing and a challenge. Blessing, because one rediscovers that there is more to life than twiddling thumbs on a touch screen; and a challenge –the students and teachers who have to find innovate methods to get information real time.

Encourage to read

One of the first tasks, Collado said, was to encourage the children to read, but she said that not a lot of students were going to the library. “I checked, and found that most of the books were not age-inappropriate, they were for high school students,” she informed. “No wonder the library was always locked.”

She got permission to empty out the library and change out the books. She applied to Darien Book Aid, a United States based non-profit organisation, and got a donation of 100 books. Additionally, Collado informed, she got her alma mater – University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus – to start a campaign for York Castle Primary, and they managed to collect 60 books. Reading Owls, another charity based in the US, donated 24 boxes of books.

“The parents and the community were thankful, and in awe,” she said. “They volunteered their services to bring the books from Spanish Town to the school.”

It takes a village to raise a child, the adage goes, and the people of York Castle live that.

“All parents turn up and help out whenever there is any work to be done at the school,” Collado said. “Without them, none of the projects would have been able to be done.”

The principal of the school, Mary Lee Harvey-Brown, concurred. “The parents are very supportive,” she said. “They are there when we need them and in the last two years, Nicole has brought about a lot of positive changes.”

Evidence of change

“The change is evident,” Harvey-Brown said. “We have a new library, a new perimeter fence; she has also taken the task of teaching Spanish, and we love her for what she is doing.”

It is a labour of love, indeed.

Collado secured funds from Let Girls Learn, to create fencing for the play area, and, through her perseverance and guidance, York Castle Primary was among the top 20 schools from 500 schools in the Lasco Reap Competition. No mean feat by any means, and they are getting there.

She informed that recently the school applied to Courts for Kids, a non-profit organisation that partners with communities in Jamaica to build multi-purpose courts.

Now almost at the end of her tenure, Collado says, the journey and experience in Jamaica has been gratifying, and satisfying. “I have become resilient, stronger, and now I able to voice my opinions without any bias,” she said.

Coming from Lajas, a small town in south west Puerto Rico, joining the Peace Corps and coming to Jamaica, which is closer to home, was humbling and rewarding. Small, in this case is relative, as one of the ‘luxuries’ she found was taking a shower – she has been bathing with a bucket of water.

“Whenever I get a chance to travel to Kingston, I would be under a shower for a while,” she said. The analogy of a kid in a candy store just rained from a faucet.

“She will be missed when she is gone,” Harvey-Brown said. “She is a proactive go-getter … . I hope her successor is as cool as her.”

For Collado, memories of this community in the hills of Jamaica, which she has come to call home, will remain etched in her mind.

“As much as this has been hard and rough at times,” she said. “The Peace Corps experience has been rewarding and I will do it all over again.”