How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Pt. 1

 Girl reading “Running the Road to ABC” in Mother’s on Half-Way-Tree while her mother provided Suduko instruction (below).  The book is by Haitian poet Denize Lauture, and features six Haitian children making their way to school (Aug 25 2010).

Since I returned from doing my Labor of Love project in Jamaica in August 2010, I’d been mulling over how to expand my mobile literacy project.   Originally, I had decided to focus on Kingston – I had begun the work there, and made a lot of contacts with artists and community organisations; I even had my eye on a building at 61-63 Orange Street.  It turns out that the building, decrepit and dirty though it is, will not become mine anytime soon.  According to the owner, Abraham Joseph, there’s no way he’s going to rent or lease it to me; as he put it quite succinctly “Listen to me – I’m not a generous person; I don’t care about helping people; the only think I care about is making a profit.”

Suduko expert gives quick tutorial to fellow customer at Mother's, Half-Way-Tree (August 25, 2010)

At the outset, I decided that this year would be the pilot phase, when I would assemble as many of the programme’s components as possible, put the whole thing in motion, and then take careful notes on how everything flowed.   I was aware that I didn’t have everything I needed, money for one thing.   In this experimental phase, the actual results didn’t matter as much as getting an understanding about how the different pieces – environment, resources, people, politics, etc. – interacted and worked together, or not.  From there, I could figure out what I would need to tweak in the subsequent years to get the results I wanted.

Jan – March 2011 – write proposal

March 2011 – visit Granville; meet with community folks & potential sponsors; investigate sites; spread the word about the programme

April – May 2011 – send out letters of inquiry; applications for monies

May – June 2011 – drives for books and art supplies; more fundraising; ship 4 barrels of books, art supplies, puzzles, games, etc. to Granville; line up accommodation, transportation, publicity, volunteers, co-instructor, storage

July 10, 2011 – arrive in Jamaica with seven pieces of luggage (yes, excess fees galore) after missing flight twice

July 11, 2011 –  The adventure begins with posturing by one gov’t agency that claims to “run” the community centre where I was scheduled to do the pilot programme!

July 11-15, 2011 – Did outreach within the district, talked with parents, shopkeepers, taxidrivers, JP’s, tradespeople, children, folks who I knew since I was a child, etc.  I met some awesome people – really ordinary and very smart – they got the link between arts & community development without me even saying much!  I bet people usually write them off as ‘mad’.   I also met a few naysayers who didn’t like the location of the programme, didn’t believe that any children would come, or that anybody would support it.  I did challenge them on their negative perceptions and what they chose to see as obstacles.  Issue of violence raised several times.  Definitely more conversations to be had.

July 15, 2011 – Registration begins.  Parents & children showed up. So did four volunteers!!

One parent came ready to fight somebody – she had heard that the person had told somebody something and somebody else overhead and told her daughter who told her – it went just like that – a preview of things to come?

Number was supposed to be capped at 30; registered 45 children.  I couldn’t turn the pre-schoolers (5 years old) away.  This was my chance to hook them into reading and I wasn’t going to give it up.

My other major task was to go in search of a certain school administrator who has been missing in action since June; he was in charge of clearing the barrels from the wharf, but had not responded to any calls, email, text or personal messages I’d sent to him. Nor had he gone to get the waiver from the Ministry of Education to clear the items.   I was on a mission to get these barrels cleared.  I called the school and found out that he was there at that moment.  I showed up, re-wrote the letter requesting the waiver, handed it to him to have him sign it (I also provided the pen), and then took it to the MoE’s regional office.
A bit of gumption rescued me from the stonewalling of the administrative assistant.  When I gave her the letter, she told me that I needed to fax more information to her before she would pass it on to be signed by the Regional Officer.  And that wasn’t going to happen for at least another day.  But I wanted to talk to him directly;  she informed me that he was ” not available at the moment.”  Right then, guess who walks out of his office? Naturally, I pounced.  And that was that for the waiver.

July 16, 2011 – Had to get on an early morning bus (Knutsford Express) to go to Kingston to pick up food from Food for the Poor location in Spanish Town.  Noone could explain why I couldn’t retrieve the order at the Montego Bay location.   I should have known this was going to take all day: I let somebody from a Jamaican agency insist that “all you have to do is come before twelve o’ clock, and just come to the gate and the security will call to go in and pick up what you ordered; no man, you don’t have to wait, you just tell the security the name of the agency and they will direct you”.  And I fell for it.  Wayne, a friend who volunteered to drive another friend’s pickup got me at the KE depot and we went directly to the Spanish Town location; got there before 10 am.  We joined the We did not drive out of there until after 3 PM.  That meant I did not have enough time to get back to Cherry Gardens, put up the stuff and then back to New Kingston to get on KE.   Instead, I found my way down to the bus park by Darling Street end of Coronation Market and got on a Coaster.  It was fine; in hindsight, the ride was just as (un)comfortable as the KE, so guess what I’ll be using to travel between Mobay and Kgn from now on, at 1/3 of the price?  Yep.

July 17, 2011 – first thing to tackle: install a bookshelf for the books.  Esther joins me in MoBay and we go shopping for plywood (it took five people  to sell me two sheets of construction plywood!) and rope (far cheaper in the store ironically named Efficient Hardware where it was sold by the pound, than in hoity-toity True Value where it was six times more expensive!).  Found someone to drill the hole in the ceiling and install the hooks.   Then four (volunteers Chris and Marcia, Esther and myself) of us strung, knotted and hung the shelves, somewhat haphazardly, into place.  The books didn’t actually arrive until Wednesday, since I was hit with a dose of passive-aggressiveness on the part of a certain school administrator.

Bookshelves in the designated library installed by Christopher (volunteer), Esther and I. (Photo by Nikolai Samuels, Aug. 12, 2011)

July 18 – August 12, 2011 – Granville Reading & Art Programme Lite.
What was I thinking?

This question passed my lips in whispers several times over the four-week period as I tried to keep the kids from killing each other (literally!); dealt with electricity outages, water lockoffs, sugar shortage, running out of toilet paper and soap; figured out how to feed the kids each day (the goods did not make it from Kingston to Mobay for another 3 weeks!) while not freaking out about how much money I was sucking out of my own checking account; did impromptu lessons to convey basic math & reasoning skills that children should already have learned in school; created ad hoc ‘behavior management plans’ for the particularly disruptive kids;  managed volunteers who needed to be told what to do & how to do it on practically every task that mattered; managed parents who didn’t know that they were supposed to behave like adults; intervened in abusive situations in the homes of individual children, all the while trying to get a good night’s sleep in order to be able to navigate the daily trip back and forth between Mt. Salem and Granville, to start all over again the next day.

All that said, within the chaos, things actually got done.  We even managed to have some fun.


One response to this post.

  1. You are truly an inspiration. With your continued passion, dedication, and hard work things will continue to happen for you and for those you serve.


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