Hampden Infant School finished

What a great day. Guided by our team of Jamaican-based construction workers, we have finished the building.

It was a hot but fulfilling end to our week. And a time to give thanks.

– to the Jamaican crew, who work all around Jamaica, out of reach of their families, living rough, to help Food For The Poor volunteers to finish these schools

– to the Canadian High Commissioner Laurie Peters and her staff who came up to help us. The Canada-Jamaica relationship is broad and deep and Food for the Poor Canada is an important “people to people” embodiment of this.

– to the Principal, teachers and students of Hampden School who accommodated us while we worked

– to Supermodel Stacey McKenzie and her team from Sunwing Foundation and Royalton for assisting with the day…and the work that they will do with children at a number of For For The Poor built schools next week.

– but especially to our band of volunteers who contributed and raised the money to construct the school and paid for their travel and accommodation to join the school build

It really does take a village to build a village.

This school build marked our 10th Anniversary. It was the 28th School built by Food For The Poor Canada in the past 10 years. In this time we have also built 80 homes in Jamaica and Haiti. We have shipped tens of millions of dollars worth of medicines, medical equipment, food and educational supplies, supported numerous livestock projects, and provided emergency relief after natural disasters.

We are tired, but proud of this effort. If you want to learn more, please be in touch with us.

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Pad✅; framing✅; walls✅ …windows; roof; and painting to go

This week we are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Food For The Poor Canada with the construction of Hampden Infant School in Jamaica.  Originally built by slaves, the school is overcrowded and unable to fully address the needs of the infant department.with this build we are constructing a new school building that includes three classrooms, a playground, a water catchment system and a kitchen.

Our volunteers are a diverse group…Canadian lawyers , construction sector, engineer, doctor, coroner, teacher, accountant, children, wealth management, marketer and non-profit specialist and yours truly, retired diplomat.  We have all contributed and raised funds to make this build a reality.

Today was hot, man.  But we pushed through it with the help of the excellent crew from Food for the Poor Jamaica.  Most of our effort was on the walls and constructing windows today.  When I was taking a rest break I managed to get some photos…the original school, the work site, and of course the kids…playing cricket at recess and others gathered around chatting to us.  I hope you enjoy them.

If these short pieces on our work in Jamaica (and Haiti…we work there too) pique your interest, please get in touch. We would love to have you join us on a build in the future.

We all want to leave more than footprints in the sand

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Finishing up the build at Accompong, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica

I’m getting set to leave the snow that still holds Ottawa in it’s grip and make a return to Jamaica.  My brother and I are joining a Food for the Poor Canada FFTP trip to help build an Infant School in Hampden, Trelawney.  This will be my third school build with FFPC, and Eric’s first, although he has been involved in making some medical equipment donations in the past.

If I am not too exhausted (or haven’t hurt myself with a hammer or power tool😊) I will try to post some photos and impressions next week.  There is a world famous Hampden Rum Estate just down the road from the school build…so that will require some time as well…

But whether or not I can get to posts next week, I want to take a moment to introduce you to FFPC.  We would really welcome anyone who reads this to join us in working to help build Jamaica and Haiti, the two countries where we have our focus.

AT FFPC we are in our 10th year of operation.  Since then, with generous donations of money, time and goodwill from our supporters we have

  • built 27 schools,
  • 65 homes and
  • shipped 60 containers of food, medicines, educational supplies and emergency supplies.

Here is an excellent video that celebrates this accomplishment.

Last year alone, Canadian donors built 5 schools, our largest number so far.  We shipped 8 containers of food, medicines, and school supplies to Haiti and Jamaica providing over 3 million meals and saving lives with $800,000 worth of medicines.  We shipped two containers of lumber and zinc to Dominica after Hurricane Irma to repair and rebuild 200 homes.

Our plans for the next little while have us focussing on building a sustainable community in Haiti with 30 houses, a community well, solar panel street lights and a chicken farm.   Donations and Involvement from you will help us to build this community even more.

We are also planning to build more schools in Jamaica to increase access to education for the youngest children.  Donations and involvement from you will help us to give these kids a good start to their lives.

And we will organize shipments of food, medicine and educational supplies to Haiti and Jamaica, again with help from people like you.

I would invite you visit our webpage www.foodforthepoor.ca   Follow us on Twitter @FoodForThePoorC and on Facebook Food For the Poor Canada to learn more about what we do.  I would also urge you to consider giving to the organization so that we can continue what we are doing.  We will welcome you to join us at future school and community builds.

I can tell you it’s the best way to go south and leave something more long-lasting than just your footprints in the sand!

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs…a great investigative series

During my time as Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica, I had the opportunity to work with Jamaican Ministers and officials and Canadian agencies and employers on various aspects of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs.

The Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (SAWP) as all Jamaicans understand is a longstanding and tremendously important aspect of our bilateral relationship.  In existence for 50 years, it has proven to be a significant contributor to Jamaica’s economic well-being (in the form of the earnings that workers bring back home) as well as Canada’s (in the form of reliable, hard-working labour for Canadian growers and producers).  Estimates from the Jamaican government suggest that the remittance amount received each year from the program is comparable to what Canada’s significant development assistance program delivers in the country.

The SAWP, and the other temporary foreign worker programs in Canada, are complex, and at times controversial.  Some Canadians are not in favour of the idea of giving employment to foreign workers.  Some foreign workers believe that they are taken advantage of under the programs.

Canada’s National Post newspaper, and other sister publications, have put out a special series on the various issues around these programs.  Written by  2015-16 Michelle Lang Fellowship recipient Alia Dharssi, they examine how Canada’s temporary foreign worker program and immigration system is shaping the country’s economy.

I have been working my way through Ms. Dharssi’s  and wanted to share them with colleagues and followers in Jamaica. They make a very interesting read.

The stories can be found at this link.

The videos can be found as this link

There are twitter hashtags noted in the articles for those who want to jump into the debate.

 

 

 

Nothing beats getting personally involved

Canadian donors working with Jamaica Haiti to support education, health and livelihoods.

During my time as High Commissioner in Jamaica, I saw first hand the significant official cooperation that exists between Canada and Jamaica.  Programs focussed on justice reform and citizen security; entrepreneurship; public finance; military and police cooperation; disaster preparation et.  To represent Canada in the context of the delivery of these programs was an honour.  However, as these programs tended to be large-scale and multi-year, it was sometimes difficult to really connect, on a personal level, with the people benefitting from them.

I considered myself very fortunate, then, to have been able to make a connection with Food for the Poor, in particular its Canadian arm, Food for the Poor Canada, through Executive Director, Samantha Mafood, along with Ray and Donette Chang , Thalia Lyn and a number of others.

Through this contact, I was invited to participate in a school build in Accompong, near Ray Chang’s birthplace.  Being in physical contact with the project (I helped to paint the school) and the children who were the beneficiaries, as well as the donors who made the build possible, was inspiring.  Building a school was certainly on a smaller scale than the large development projects that Canada funds in Jamaica.  However, the intangible satisfaction from being able to personally help with the physical and financial effort to touch children and their community has always stayed with me.

Joanne and I have returned to Canada now and I have retired from government service.  However, I still seek to maintain connection with Jamaica (a land we love :)) by serving on the Board of Directors of Food the Poor Canada.

The organization is on a multi-year mission to increase the contribution to helping build Jamaica and Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean.  We are focussing on education (building and equipping schools), health (providing water, feeding programs and housing as well as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and supplies) and livelihoods (i.e. bee farming).

Food for the Poor Canada has just recently updated its website presence.  I would invite you to take a look at it, it is good reading.  And while you are at it, sign up for the newsletter, and watch for what we are planning.  After doing so, if you feel you are in a position to help the organization continue to deliver its contribution to Jamaica, we would love to hear from you.

Alpha Boys School…132 years old…with an eye clearly on the future

Alpha

Yesterday was the 132nd  anniversary of Alpha Boys School (a vocational school for young men in Kingston, Jamaica run by the Religious Sisters of Mercy).  For those who love music, Alpha is an almost magical place where many of the unique musical styles that define Jamaican (Ska, Mento, Rock Steady) emerged. 

Today I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Mr. Josh Chamberlain, Special Projects Officer from Alpha.  Josh is on a visit to Canada to continue his successful efforts to build a network of musicians, technicians, educators and lovers of great Jamaican music so that the current success of Alpha can be put on a sustaining path into the future. 

I do not want to get out in front of Josh and his colleagues, but suffice it to say that, if the pieces they are developing come together, there are some very cool things coming from Alpha.  While music will always be the core of the equation, there are plans to evolve Alpha, with its unique facilities and history, into a centre of music technology and innovation.  And in the process, provide Jamaican youth with skills for real jobs that contribute to Jamaica’s future growth.

The plans are very exciting.  It will take lots of support to bring to fruition. 

If you don’t follow them already, please keep your eye on Alpha’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for upcoming developments. 

And if you don’t tune in regularly to their internet radio channel AlphaBoysSchoolRadio.com then do so immediately!  If you are Jamaican, you will recognize the tunes and styles and be transported back home.  And for the rest of us (who just wish we were Jamaican) it will have you calling the travel agent to make a booking to visit. 

Alpha Boys School Radio is your passport to Jamaican Music.  And Alpha Boys is on a path to bring more and more success to the youth who study there and more and more of Jamaica to the world. 

The misplaced goodbye

20131128_000856900_iOSJoanne and I had to miss an opportunity to get back to Jamaica recently given a variety of circumstances here in Ottawa.  We had really been looking forward to catching up with old friends.  That got me thinking again about the years we spent in Jamaica and it dawned on me that I had never really said goodbye.  Sure, I had said my farewells to the Diplomatic Corps and to the Canadian Women’s Club.  But I had wanted to say goodbye in a more widely-cast way.

Someone had suggested that I should modify my Diplomatic Corps remarks a bit and submit them as a letter to the Editors of the Gleaner and Observer.  I was intending to do that but one think led to another and the letter never got sent.  I have recently found it.

While it is more than a bit late to be newsworthy now, and a little bit strange to be posting it today, in my view it is bad form not to have said a proper goodbye.  So here is the draft of the letter I had hoped to send at the time of our departure.  Apologies for it’s late delivery.

Letter to the Editor Gleaner/Observer

One of the ironies of diplomatic life is that just as soon as you start to understand the place you are posted, you are on your way to your next assignment.  My wife Joanne and I are shortly returning to Canada. While we always knew it was inevitable, the certainty is now hitting home.  Before leaving we wanted to express our thanks and our reflections on what have been three wonderful years in Jamaica.

As a Canadian, what struck me first about Jamaica, apart from the heat, are the many historical connections that exist between our two countries.  Many probably know some of the references… Codfish for rum brought us together in the days of the British Empire, and from that, Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, was created; the first West Indies cricket tour was to Canada in 1886; Canada’s first Prime Minister had a Jamaican wife and named his railway car “Jamaica” so she would feel at home rattling across Canada with him by train; and speaking of trains, the steam engines that used to travel Jamaica’s railroad were made in Canada – in fact in Kingston, Canada (my hometown!) You can still see one at the old station Downtown; The Bank of Nova Scotia, now ScotiaBank, opened a branch in Jamaica before doing so in Toronto; Alcan, an iconic Canadian brand from another era lead the development of the Jamaica bauxite industry; Air Canada and its close association with Air Jamaica; the large diaspora movements to Canada in the 1970s and 80s, longstanding military cooperation; the large number of students who have gone to Canada to study, and the significant growth of Canadian tourism to Jamaica.  And there may well be some references that are less familiar with…the Great Canada-Jamaica Patty War of the 1980s…look it up, its true! (no injuries were reported on either side!).  I could go on…and on…but I won’t.

Having served as High Commissioner here the other thing that strikes me is that our relationship is not just about history.  Canada shares a rich contemporary partnership with Jamaica that addresses our mutual interests.

It is in our mutual interest that Jamaica has a sound and sustainable economy with increasing levels of growth where a variety of natural resource endowments, locational advantages, talented people and a strong tourism offering can be leveraged in the international economy.

It is in our mutual interest that Jamaica is more prepared for the inevitable natural disasters that affect the Caribbean region and does not have to see hard own progress literally washed away by storms and other natural events

And it is in our mutual joint interest that Jamaica has a security and justice system in which all Jamaicans can derive safety and confidence and where criminal actors are prevented from moving, along with their illicit goods/activities beyond Jamaica’s borders only to become problems for others, including Canada.

These interests drive our program here and explain why there is such a rich and diverse set of partnerships.  Over 25 projects with acronyms ranging from JUST, CSJP, PROPEL, EPIC, COMPETE CARIBBEAN, PFM give expression to how we work together.  Tangible outcomes such as the JDF Training Centre of Excellence, justice system reform, the Citizen Security and Justice Program, tax system improvements, local economic development projects etc. are the results.

As sometimes happens between close friends, just how much we count on each other sometimes gets taken for granted.  Addressing this reality has been one of the things I have been working on during my tenure here.  Social media has provided a great venue for getting the word out about. So I hope that either through traditional or social media, one way or another, you have heard something about the priorities we are working on with Jamaica.

I have had many ask “what is the single most memorable thing of your assignment here”?  That’s an impossible question to answer.  Looking back over three years as High Commissioner it is a bit of a blur.  When I close my eyes what comes to mind starts with my arrival in Jamaica, followed almost immediately by a visit to Canada with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, which was interrupted by a last minute return trip to ensure we were on the island for Hurricane Sandy.  Next were the discussions around Jamaica’s agreement with the IMF and the satisfaction that Canada could provide some last minute support that helped seal the deal.  There are the three Christmas mornings that we shared with Monsignor Ramkisoon and Mustard Seed friends feeding 5000 inner city children and parents.  I will always remember hosting the Canadian Womens’ Club annual fashion shows and fundraising concerts for the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica in support of their tour to Canada.  And there are all the hardy souls I have met on regular morning walks at the Mona Dam…not too much conversation really…a quick “good morning” and a nod had to suffice… and then back to huffing and puffing through the exercise…at least that’s how it was for me.

One of the most lasting impressions I will have is the continued strength of the people to people links between our two countries.  Many Jamaicans are also Canadian citizens who travel back and forth regularly to visit family and friends.  Over 400,000 Canadian tourists visit this fair isle every year.  Longstanding business links continue to connect us.  Approximately 9,000 farm workers travel to Canada to work on Canadian farms providing significant benefits to both sides.  All of this creates plenty of opportunity for partnerships outside of the government to government sphere.  And that is what is happening more and more often.  From the multimillion dollar Caribbean paediatric oncology initiative of SickKids Hospital in Toronto; to partnerships with Sunnybrook Hospital; to the work that organizations like Food for the Poor Canada and PACE Canada undertake for the education sector here; through to school building programs lead by Sunwing Vacations; even to missions lead by Toronto and Winnipeg Police Services, there is an overflowing of good will and giving back to Jamaica from Canada.

Joanne and I won’t miss the daily violence that seems to be tearing the heart out of the country or what I consider the hyprocrisy of many religious groups that seem to prefer turning a blind eye to the abuse of children and young people, even in their communities, in favour of campaigning against the legal and social accommodation of the LGBT community.

Joanne and I have been lucky to have seen much of Jamaica during our time here.  The area around Port Antonio, Goblin Hill and Frenchman’s Cove was a frequent destination.  We got to Reach Falls and were disappointed to find it closed.  Fortunately, some young lads gave us what they called “the local tour”…all six falls and pools!  That was exciting and probably my best real Jamaica experience.  Joanne made have one-upped me with her visit to the Bath hotsprings.  Apparently the visit involved swimming suits; Rasta-type men; hot water; guests being rubbed with towels… yikes! For further details, you will have to ask Joanne…I told here I didn’t want to know any more details!

I attended funerals all over Kingston and into deep rural Jamaica, even giving eulogies for people I did not know.  Work and pleasure took us to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Runaway Bay, Accompong, Negril, Spalding, Fielding, Mandeville, Treasure Beach, Spanish Town, Portmore, Moneague, Linstead, Port Antonio, Greenwich, Newcastle and places in between.  We have painted schools with Food for the Poor; done any number of 5K walks for charity; handed over computers; cut ribbons at handover events; officiated at sporting events; helped to organize fashion shows; rappelled off high buildings; shot military weapons; presided over a Jamaica Regiment/Royal Canadian Regiment Dinner and taken the formal salute from the Massed Band; and I spoke at every opportunity I could get.

Not only have we seen much of Jamaica…Jamaica has seen much of us.  Nothing prepared me for the number of photographs that would be taken of me here (many taken by the gracious Mr. Winston Sill, may he rest in peace). What do the Gleaner and Observer photographers do with all those photos after someone leaves the island?  I gradually got used to the photos, but am more than a bit concerned that there is hardly a one of them that doesn’t show me holding a glass of red wine…!  However, no one prepared me for the “celebrity” status of having a young man from Kingston College correctly identify me in a photograph to successfully answer the final question and win the School Challenge Quiz!  I believe that young man will go far!

But finally, the most lasting impression is the people.  We have met some amazing individuals here.  Jamaicans are among the friendliest and helpful people Joanne and I have ever met.  From my “walking friends” at the Mona Dam; to my social media friends with whom I am in daily contact. I have met people of great character, in the business, political and voluntary sectors, who have been willing to give me advice and counsel, introductions, or who have simply offered friendship. All of these people are working in their own ways to build Jamaica. Joanne and I have made great friends and colleagues in the diplomatic corps. But our deepest thanks goes to the staff of the Canadian High Commission. Thanks are owed them all for the support they have provided us, in particular the local staff who always have to adjust every three years or so to a new High Commissioner and his or her peculiarities.  I hope we have not been too peculiar!

As I think back to 3 ½ years ago, I was in a group of newly minted Ambassadors and High Commissioners getting some training before we left for our assignments.  The final word came from a retired former Ambassador who said…

”the most important thing you have to remember is who you are.   You are going overseas to fulfill a function that is important, and that, by definition, comes with much prestige and privilege.  But always remember that the day you finish your assignment and come home you will no longer be “Your Excellency”.  No one will be waiting to open the door and to drive you places. There will be no reserved seat at functions for you.  And unless you get into trouble with the law…the media will not at all care who you are or what you say.  You will still be the same ordinary person you were the day before you took up the assignment.”

I have always thought that was good advice and have tried to perform my functions with that in mind.

If it misses the mark anywhere it is that while we may be returning to Canada as ordinary people, we take with us the memories of 3 extraordinary years in Jamaica.  Joanne and I would like simply say thank you one and all for making that possible.

“Walk Good”…

Joanne and I will

“Soon Come”…

back to Jamaica to visit!

Robert and Joanne Ready