Sat | May 27, 2017

Ground breaks for centre of excellence for special-needs kids

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer

An inspiring partnership between the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities (JAID) and the Digicel Foundation commenced earlier this week with a ceremony to celebrate the construction of a centre of excellence in Port Maria, St Mary, for children with special needs.

The Port Maria Learning Centre (PMLC) was initially established in 1977 as a division of the JAID and has operated from various locations in St Mary and St Ann, but never had a permanent home.

However, the Ministry of Education recently made land available in Port Maria, and as part of the Digicel Foundation's plan to establish four special needs centres of excellence by 2016, the charity is donating $27 million to construct a building, train staff, and upgrade equipment.

JAID Executive Director Christine Rodriquez is overjoyed to have finally found a home for the PMLC after almost 40 years of searching.

She told Rural Xpress: "I'm so excited but I think I'll get some real closure when the building is finished. You could say this is like the icing on the cake because it is an area of great need.

"The past three or four years have been particularly difficult for us because the rain we've been having on this end of the island (has) exasperated a problem that has been there for a while. It's just great to know there is a home for the children in this area of St Mary and Jamaica."

BEACON OF INNOVATION

According to the chair of the Digicel Foundation, Jean Lowrie-Chin, a deaf and mute woman from St Mary, Claudia Gordon, relocated to the United States as a child and grew up to become America's first, black, female attorney and the first deaf person to work at the White House as a government agency employee.

Lowrie-Chin hopes the new centre, which targets students aged between six and 19 years old with literacy, numeracy and vocational lessons, will become a beacon of innovation and help nurture more talented young people in the parish.

She told Rural Xpress: "When we came here, not only did we find there was a great need, but also a great team of people who were focused and ready to execute the project.

"[Trinity Primary School] has been very kind to give us space and the JAID is very much on board to ensure the building is properly equipped, so it was just a marriage of so many great minds in a parish that has really dedicated people."

Member of Parliament for Central St Mary and minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Morais Guy, added: "Today's ground-breaking for the PMLC is phenomenal because it finally has given rest to the itinerant nature of the school.

"Since 1977, they have occupied spaces at the SDC facility and the Catholic Church in Port Maria, but kept getting evicted. Today is monumental in the sense that there is finally a place where they can educate the children.

"Also, I'm particularly happy the site is on these school grounds because there must be an appreciation by able-bodied students about what disabilities are about, so we can have a unified family of students growing up without any prejudices as it relates to children with learning or physical disabilities."

rural@gleanerjm.com