Eight years ago, Beachers Karl Hale and Geoff Bower hosted a small get-together that raised $500 for a school in a small Jamaican town.
Today, the foundation they started has raised 1,000 times that amount, built six primary schools and funded training courses for the teachers who work in them.
At one of the schools, Sandy Banks Primary, the share of students who can read has shot up from a third to 84 per cent in just five years.
“Once students have a real facility and motivated teachers, everything else falls into place,” says Hale, a tennis pro who grew up in Montego Bay and played for Jamaica’s Davis Cup team for a decade before he moved to Toronto.
Hale said the old schools that the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation aims to replace are makeshift, leaky buildings, typically in underserved rural areas of the island. When it rains hard, the teachers in those schools cannot hold classes – an impossible way to start school in Jamaica’s fall rainy season.
The one-room schools put up by Helping Hands cost about $45,000 Hale said, and they include both kitchens and toilets.
“It is a lot of money, but in the context of building a school it’s not,” he said. “And the school will change the whole community.”
Helping Hands’ leading fundraiser is the 5 km Appleton Estate Walk for Education. Now in its third year, the walk starts 10 a.m. on June 23 at the foot of Beech Avenue and goes along the beach boardwalk, wrapping up with a Jamaica-themed lunch at the Balmy Beach Club.
As of June 6, the walk was nearly halfway to its fundraising goal of $20,000 – enough money to build and outfit a new school. For more information visit www.yellowhouseevents.com/helpinghandsjamaica/.