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Barbara Allen - Civil Servant of the Year

Published:Monday | December 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Barbara Allen

Growing up in the rural community of Camrose in St James, Barbara Allen never once thought that she was poor. There was always food that included a wide variety of fruits for her and seven siblings to share.

Like most Jamaicans living in the country, Allen grew up having what she described as "plain old-fashion fun". In a recent interview she told Flair, "On a Sunday afternoon, for example, after the chores were done, all the neighbouring children would come together for Rounders (baseball), skipping, cricket, ring games, to name a few."

But unlike most children of her time, Allen spent a lot of time reading. She would read whatever she could get her hands on, and when she had read them all, she would simply read them again. "I particularly remember Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan because after reading the story several times, and in desperation for something to read at another time, found only a part of the book which I proceeded to read again because I could fill in the gaps. By the time I was in high school, I might have read most, if not all the books in the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series."

As Allen's reading portfolio expanded, so did her spectrum in career choices. But not for long. Subsistence farming was the mainstay for residents of Camrose, while a few were gainfully employed in Montego Bay, and so Allen wanted something a bit more exotic ... or so she thought. "When I was growing up I wanted to do something exotic so I thought of becoming an air stewardess. Of course, I was flatly told by an uncle that was not a profession and was guided towards teaching," said Allen, who was later surprised by how much she loved it.


Moulded and on her way to becoming a well-rounded young woman, after seven years at Mount Alvernia High School, she enrolled at The Mico University College (then Mico Teachers' College) and the University of the West Indies. She completed her postgraduate studies at the National University in Costa Rica in 1988 and the International Institute for Education Planning (IIEP/UNESCO) in Paris in 2002.

Like most things we pursue in life, there are obstacles, and Allen's case was no different. The holder of 2015's Civil Servant of the Year told Flair: "I found that teaching was really rewarding, especially when the young people would express appreciation for the help and guidance you gave them. Hearing the word 'Miss' and seeing your students thrive was always a pleasure. But I did not spend very long in the classroom as I developed an allergy to the chalk, so I came into the central ministry to finish serving my bond in 1987, before leaving to further my studies in 1988, returned in 1990 and here I am many years later."

She is currently the senior director of the Planning and Development Division in the Ministry of Education, a position she acquired in 2003 after working in the Education Planning Unit (education officer and assistant chief education officer) and the Policy Analysis and Research Unit (senior education officer).


With such huge responsibilities, Allen's day typically starts at 7 a.m., ending sometimes at 5 p.m. or as late as 9 p.m. "I go through my e-mails, start to complete some activities that were not completed the day before or other pressing matters. By the time most of my staff members arrive, I would be well on my way. Also, I work with a very supportive group of persons in the Planning and Development Division. And I strongly believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, who has put me here to serve."

When asked what advice she would give to the youth of today, she answered: "My motto is 'Never want anything so much that you will compromise your integrity to get it'. With this in mind I'd like to encourage young people to develop positive values and attitudes, have a strong belief in God and have a purpose for your life. Whatever you do, let it be done to the best of your ability always remembering that you write your own biography with your work. When you make mistakes and you will, never be too big to take correction."