Canadian volunteers score well
A 40-member contingent from Canada, comprised of police officers from three police districts and their civilian support teams, will leave the island on Sunday after what has already been described as a very successful whirlwind week of humanitarian activities directed at young and vulnerable groups, as well as a lecture series at the National Police College of Jamaica at Twickenham Park, St Catherine.
Inspector Natalie Palmer, of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Community Safety and Security Branch, a member of the liaison support group, told The Gleaner that all the group's objectives were met, but they were particularly heartened by the transformation at Jessie Ripoll Primary School, which was the main focus of their renovations effort.
This much was evident when the newspaper caught up with members of the group who were involved in painting as well as renovation of the library at the school earlier this week.
"Man, this is serious work, what you mean by that?" Staff Sergeant Ezra 'Tony' Browne of the York Regional Police district in Ontario responded when The Gleaner suggested he was having more fun than working.
"We're helping kids for tomorrow, our future. We help in giving them support, doing something for them that they could prepare for their lives. So that's very important," he declared.
"I'm really amazed at the appreciation that the administration of the school has shown for us to do this work - the people, the students, the community who came out yesterday to assist us," Staff Sergeant Ronnie Boyce, of the Toronto Police Service, shared when The Gleaner spoke with him on Wednesday, as he took a break from painting duties.
"It's been phenomenal and we just want to come down here and give back to Jamaica. Many of us are transplanted Jamaicans living in Toronto and we just wanted to give back to the homeland and show that we are available to them if we have the opportunity."
That was the general sentiment from this volunteer corps which was clearly enjoying the transformation that was evident as a result of their hard work. Describing herself as the 'mouthpiece' for this group of Canadians with Caribbean (mostly Jamaican) roots, Shauna Bent, co-chair of the social committee of the Toronto Police Service, explained that the project was born out of the accomplishment of Jamaica-born Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of the Winnipeg Police Service in October 2012.
"So in answering your question, 'what brought us here?' Chief Clunis and the relationship that we have within those three police services (York, Toronto and Winnipeg) - that's what brought us here."
Desire to give back
Clunis, who is visiting Jamaica for the second time in 16 months, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Wednesday that, having left Jamaica in 1975 at the age of 11, he has always had a desire to return.
"It was always my mindset that I would like to come back to my homeland, but I would like to have something to contribute," he told journalists at The Gleaner's Kingston offices.
At Jessie Ripoll, Bent noted that the entire project was self-funded.
"Everybody that you see here as a volunteer is here on their own time, on their own dime. We have not received a single dollar from either the service or the Canadian government," she explained. "We're doing this all ourselves because it was very important for us to do this and it was a dream of Chief Clunis and it was a dream of many of us."
Jessie Ripoll Primary was selected from a group of schools that answered the call for assistance by way of book donations and library and other renovations.
The handover of the refurbished library, with an impressive donation of books and other learning resource material, is set for 10 o'clock this morning and Yvette Blackburn, from the Toronto District school board, the sole educator on the trip, is delighted with this donation.
"We got books donated from Rubicon Publishing and some of the members bought supplies and things like that to supplement what was given to the school - other supplies, book binders, pens, pencils, and then they got resource materials. The Toronto District School Board has provided a lot of resource material - textbooks, different assessment tool kits, to utilise diagnostic tools for teachers to use in their pedagogy in the curriculum delivery and then also for the students to then sit and read to be able to better engage themselves in regards to their learning."
Keith Merith, inspector with the York Regional Police district, summed up things this way: "It's been an absolutely fantastic experience. Just being able to assist, help and seeing the accomplishments and the smile on these young kids, their faces, the excitement of having us here supporting them, it's been a blessing in disguise. It's fantastic and we will definitely do this year after year in some capacity or another."