Archive for January, 2011

After I had learned that I had received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College for the spring, 2011 semester I found that the Fulbright Association strongly encourages scholars to purchase cars in the country in which they will be working and then sell them when they leave to help boost the economy. Well my husband, Rick, has driven around the entire island of Jamaica and this is where he drew the line- I would NOT be driving in Jamaica. Ms. Russell, who thinks I can do anything thought that “of course” you can drive in Montego Bay and Granville but Rick thought better. So we hired a driver.

Initially the people I am renting my condo from gave me a driver’s name and I contacted him. He was happy to be my daily driver and we made arrangements for my first pickup. Well, instead of Dwight, I found a Mr. Johnson waiting outside my door. He’s a lovely Jamaican man, missing several front teeth, who it takes a bit of time to understand, but he really cares about my well-being and is always punctual; something a bit unusual for Jamaica.

He arrives early in the morning with a smile, the windows half open because his air conditioning is broken (doesn’t he know what that does to my hair!) and pleasant conversation. I trust him completely and asked him today if he could just be my permanent driver, but it seems that Dwight owns his car, so that is that.

But guardian angels come in the least expected forms. Mr. Johnson, you are certainly a guardian angel.


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On Wednesday, January 26 I had the privilege of attending the Jamaica Ministry of Education Special Education Conference, “Access, Equity and Relevance: Critical Considerations for Students with Exceptionalities.” The conference was held at the beautiful Sunset Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios, St. Ann, Jamaica

I had the opportunity to listen to Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughn, MD, Ph.D, CD, an expert in Jamaica on the Autism Spectrum Disorders including Aspergers Syndrome and PDD-NOS (ask a special education major what that acronym means). She was a wealth of knowledge about Autism but I was also able to get the perspective on the differences in addressing a disability between a developing nation (Jamaica) and a developed nation (America).

Much of the terminology used was the same but there is a much higher percentage of this disability in America than in Jamaica. It could be due to better and earlier diagnosis in the US but could it also be due to other factors as well, things such as food preservatives, more technology, increased pollution, or a host of other possibilities? I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along Jamaica is in both diagnosing this disability and then teaching children and supporting parents of children with this disability. Of course, there are still many children in the back country who are going undiagnosed and then untreated but there is a fervent plan by the government to educate ALL Jamaican children, in inclusive settings whenever possible. The goal is to have every child in Jamaica literate by 2014, a worthy and ambitious goal. In some ways Jamaica has an advantage over the US because there are not various states each doing their own thing but rather the central government is issuing mandates for the whole country and each parish to follow.

I rode to Ocho Rios from my condo on a bus with 28 year 2 and year 3 students, and what an experience that was! They were more than gracious having a professor in their midst and were so willing to include me in their conversations. They seem eager to not only meet, but also get to know this professor from the United States and are both warm and welcoming.

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I met Mrs. Dorette Russell the third year that I took students to the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf. She had signed on to be the interim principal for 4-5 weeks and is still at CCCD 8 years later. CCCD is so fortunate to have a woman of her strength and faith at the helm and she has become one of my best friends, in fact my Jamaican sista. She is a mom to both the teachers and the children, disciplinarian to those that need to be called out regarding inappropriate behaviors, cheerleader for the school for work teams from the United States, and prayer warrior for anyone who needs her support. She is one of the strongest and smartest women I know and I count it a privilege to call her my friend. There are numerous times over the past 8 years that I have called on Dorette for support, understanding, help and advice…and she has never left me down. She is truly my Jamaican guardian angel.

This past week I have had the privilege of meeting a new friend, Sharon Anderson-Morgan, chair of Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College’s special education program. She has made me felt welcome, answered all of my numerous questions, introduced me to fellow faculty members and made me feel like a part of the Sam Sharpe family. I am confident that as we work together both with each other and the students we will become both colleagues and friends. This week she has certainly been my guide showing me everything I need to know about Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College.

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I don’t know exactly what I expected but I was told that I didn’t need to be at Sam Sharpe until the opening 11:00 assembly so I arrived at 10:30, put everything on my desk, and made my way to the all purpose room. It felt good to sit in the first few rows with the other professors, some of whom I had met at my hotel in Kingston when they were attending a teacher’s conference in Kingston. I also sat with my new friends from the special education department. Then the students started pouring in, all 600 of them.

The assembly began with devotions and prayer. Then the students and faculty sang a number of Christian choruses. Coming from a Christian College I wasn’t exactly shocked but Sam Sharpe is not a Christian College. Jamaica though claims to be a Christian nation so it is not unusual to see many government and public events opened with prayer and Scripture reading. After a greeting from Dr. Asburn Pinnock, principal of the college, I was introduced to the college and was very warmly received. The assembly ended with the singing of both the Jamaican national anthem and Sam Sharpe’s school song. I loved the words to both and will include the words to the Jamaican national anthem in this blog. The words to Sam Sharpe’s song will come later.

After a lunch of curry goal (which I passed on), rice, vegetables and bammy I met the students majoring in mild/moderate disabilities, severe disabilities and deaf education. I know that I will struggle learning their names so I took a picture of each and downloaded them by classes with their names under their pictures. Perhaps if I study each night, I will learn to correctly pronounce their beautiful names. Then I spent several hours co-teaching the first day of the deaf education class and had a blast. Since they all had one semester of sign language we spent a lot of time conversing in sign language about our holidays. The students were great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Once I got home I started reviewing the day in my mind and realized I was the only white person on campus…but I never even realized it while I was there. I was so warmly accepted that I never felt like the odd man (or woman) out. What a blessing!


Eternal Father bless our land,
Guard us with Thy Mighty Hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours.
To our Leaders, Great Defender,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, Land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty’s call, strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish.
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

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Anyone who knows me at Trinity understands how important it is for me to have a comfortable and homey (and neat) atmosphere in my office. I take the time to paint, put up a wallpaper border, add pictures, both on the walls and on my desk and clean up my desk every day before I go home for the night.

So I tried to keep my expectations low regarding my working space at Sam Sharpe. Would I get a cubicle, an office, a desk or less? Well one of the special education professors who works on campus willingly gave up her desk for me since she lives on campus and rarely uses it anyway. So I will be sharing an office with 2 of the 3 special education professors at Sam Sharpe, Keitha and Sharon, and Denise will be coming in to work with us when we collaborate…. and I have my own desk! I’m so excited. I had the chance to put all of the books I sent through the embassy on my desk as well as my matching calendar, note pads and folders, a wicker basket, family pictures and a new piece of Wassi art pottery. Everything matches of course and feels like a touch of home. I was already playfully teased about the matchy-matchy desktop but that’s me…and people seem to accept it and accept me.

After moving into my office Sharon, Denise, Keitha and I had 3-4 hours to collaborate on Sam Sharpe’s special education curriculum and we worked so well together. It was such a pleasure to share ideas, build on each other’s expertise, and come up with an excellent finished product.

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The second year that I came to CCCD the missionary family, the St. Clair’s, took us to church on Sunday morning at The Meeting Place. I had been to charismatic churches before but immediately felt at home in this spirit-filled church.

Worshipping at The Meeting Place has become one of my favorite parts of Trinity’s yearly service-learning trip to CCCD. It is a church composed of predominantly Jamaicans but there are also missionaries from American, England and Australia as well as students there on short-term mission projects with their schools or churches. So it is a wonderful non-homogeneous mix of people who love the Lord and love to worship him in song, dance, and by hearing and responding to the Word.

Pastor Mary is a dynamic preacher who is not afraid to tell it like it is and continually challenges her church body to become more Christ-like and stand up for what is just and right. I’m anxious to not only attend this church for four months but to get involved as well. How? Well only time will tell. I have a few dreams that I shared with my team of Trinity students when they were here at the beginning of January but I want to be ready to walk through open doors and not force my way into any position or situation. I intend to participate in a women’s Bible study group and hope to make some new friends there. I need to have friends in Montego Bay to make it through the next four months so I’m praying that I will meet and connect with some kindred spirits at The Meeting Place.

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Stage 10 talks about “Discovering the Boon” or the reason for your work and/or adventure. For me part of my boon has been sponsoring children from CCCD. After I had taken teams of students from Trinity Christian College to the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf for two years I decided to sponsor my first child from the school. That student was Shellane McKitty and I sponsored her for six years. We developed a wonderful relationship and I always looked forward to seeing her each January. The day that Ms. Russell, the principal, told me that Shellane had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior was one of the happiest days of my life. But several years ago she moved to New York City to live with her father and my sponsorship of her ended…but thanks to facebook, our relationship continues.

After I started sponsoring Shellane my husband and I also decided to sponsor one of the younger children and chose Lattwana Simpson. When I met her she was in the “baby” class and I fell in love with her instantly. We have continued to sponsor her and it is a privilege to watch her grow up and develop into a beautiful young woman. She has experienced so much heartache in her young life that I hope our relationship is as positive for her as it is for me.

For a while I sponsored the two girls and would bring them belated Christmas gifts each January. Two years ago a charming little boy came up to me and signed, “You sponsor two girls, must sponsor a boy…sponsor me.” Well he had me and I thought that any young man with that amount of gumption ought to be sponsored so when Shellane moved to New York, we started sponsoring O’Shane Reid. Now I look forward to seeing both Lattwana and O’Shane each January and they in turn know that they will see me at least once a year. We communicate a bit during the year as well but spend lots of time together during the week that I’m at CCCD.

Sponsoring children from CCCD has brought me so much joy and has been more than a side benefit to my work at the school. When my son, Josh, and his bride, Sarah, honeymooned in Jamaica they made a special trip to see Lattwana and O’Shane and my son, Aaron and daughter-in-law, Becky, have gone with me on two trips to the school as has my daughter, Kaitlyn, so Lattwana and O’Shane really are like a part of the family. What a blessing it is to have “family” in Jamaica.

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