BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
In Jamaica, a central and popular belief is that “education is the key to success” and it all starts at the elementary stages of a child’s life. However, with factors such as inadequate resources to facilitate students in educational institutions, the dream of educational fulfilment can be easily deterred. One organization is fostering a much-needed mandate to improve childhood education across the island.
The Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation seeks to “improve the lives of the next generation of Jamaicans and their communities by creating a world-class education system through investment in infrastructure, resource materials, and expertise”.
On Friday, September 16th the foundation hosted their 12th annual fundraising gala on the grounds of Donalda Club in Toronto. Hosted by CP24 anchor Nathan Downer, the event featured an evening of live auctions, entertainment and fine dining topped with Jamaican cuisine and reggae music in an exquisite island vibe ambience. The event brought out philanthropists, entrepreneurs and other members of the community in support of the foundation’s continued cause of “building lives through education”.
President of Helping Hands Jamaica, Karl Hale expressed that he is overwhelmed by the ongoing support the foundation has been receiving from the community over the years.
“I am still to this day amazed at what can be accomplished when we come together with like-minded individuals with a passion to support those in less fortunate positions,” he said.
Helping Hands Jamaica started in 2005 inside the Consul General Office of Anne Marie Bonner after Hale, who was born in Falmouth Jamaica, introduced a concept to support his homeland.
In 2009, the foundation partnered with Samantha Mahfood, executive director of Food For the Poor, to build schools in mostly under-resourced communities in Jamaica. Helping Hands has managed to build eighteen schools across the island, now partnering with notable Canadian groups such as MLSE, Sunwing, and Kisko. This year, the foundation was successfully able to build five elementary schools in the parishes of Portland, Hanover, St Ann and St James with the donations accumulated from their fundraising events.
Since its inception, the foundation has seen tremendous upward mobility, progressing from raising only $15,000 at its inaugural gala in 2005 to raising over $100,000 presently. The funds collected from the gala assist the organization in building schools in Jamaica each year. The foundation also supports and partners with foundations in Jamaica such as the Oracabessa Foundation and Breds, groups with the shared goal of improving the lives of youths in small underdeveloped communities.
The average cost for building a school in Jamaica is $60,000. At this year’s gala, Helping Hands Jamaica’s main aim was to accomplish that goal.
“If we think about how much we have and how much we spend on so many different things for our own pleasure and how we can really impact lives through this foundation I want people to actually consider how much they can give back” said Mark Josephs a member on the board of the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation and president of Kisko Products, a family business, owning Kisko Freezies and the Mr. Freeze brand.
The highlight of the evening was the live auction that featured a variety of prizes and packages valued at over $40,000. Among the top valued was a seven-day stay for twelve guests in the private Karma Bay Villa at the exclusive Tryall Club in Hanover Jamaica valued at $25,000 and auctioned off for $13,500. Other prizes included a his and her watch set from the Bulova diamond collection; an all-expense paid trip to Jamaica for a five night stay at Iberostar in Montego Bay; a week stay at the Point Of View Villa located at the world’s Famous Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio, Jamaica; a dinner for six catered in the comfort of your own home by renowned chef Selwyn Richards and a Rogers Cup suite all sold with the minimum cost being $900.
Consul General of Jamaica Lloyd Wills was one of the supporters in attendance at the gala. In his address to attendees, he expressed his gratitude on behalf of the Jamaican government to the foundation and its continued and relentless contributions to the growth and development of basic education in Jamaica.
“Jamaican companies for a long time have been searching for a formula to cross over. Helping Hands has crossed over, they have managed to get everyone on board and it is an absolute phenomenon, something we should celebrate when one of ours manages to achieve it and with such constant ease,” he said.
“Helping Heads continues to serve an absolute phenomenal purpose, our kids are basking in the glory of their gift and the Jamaican government is absolutely grateful.”
Helping Hands Jamaica hopes to build more schools in the coming years to continue with their initiative of giving children in Jamaica a brighter future through education.