The University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica

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UWI Township Project: All about being a caring neighbour

Children - UWI Township Programme

In 2008, when August Town resident Jevoun Huffstead was offered a place at the University of the West Indies, he wasn’t sure how he would raise funds for his tuition. Today, Jevoun has settled in nicely as a student in the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences majoring in computer science and mathematics.

“It’s a great feeling to be the first recipient of the UWI Township Initiative scholarship and this has impacted on me in a very positive way,” says Jevoun.

He continued, “The programme has helped me and other students that have reached normal matriculation to the UWI. Students of the community are very grateful for the UWI Township initiative.”

Jevoun and fellow scholarship recipients - - -, chatted with Professor Chevannes following ceremonyThis year, the university has offered four full-time scholarships and several part-time scholarships to students from the wider August Town community with one of the criterion being they must have lived there for at least 15 years.

Situated on the bank of the Hope River, August Town is a community that has seen its fair share of social ills. It also happens to be one of the UWI’s neighbours. This proximity has created important linkages between the UWI and the community.

The best illustration of how this relationship has grown can be seen in the University Township Project, which was established three years ago as the Special Restoration Project, with funding from the Kingston Restoration Corporation (KRC).

With the KRC funding about to end, Professor Gordon Shirley, Principal of the UWI, Mona, decided to expand the programme and place greater emphasis on education.

UWI Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, Barry Chevannes, was instrumental in the development of the project, and he envisions mutual benefits flowing to the UWI and the greater August Town community.

The expanded project now seeks to foster a more symbiotic relationship between the university and the community. This initiative has seen members of the August Town community benefiting from programmes in education, skills training, health and nutrition, culture and sports, economic development, as well as violence and crime reduction and prevention.

The University Township Project has embarked on a number of initiatives that have had far-reaching positive effects.

The education initiative through which the UWI has upgraded nine area basic schools and two primary schools will inure to the benefit of more than 300 young children. Based on a need assessment, the UWI raised the funds and engaged a craftsman to effect repairs to the schools. The upgrades ranged from equipping canteens, installing fire extinguishers, refrigerators and freezers, to erecting exit signs and goal posts for school fields. The aim of these initiatives was to put the schools in a better position to become registered with the Ministry of Education.

It is against this background that an Association of Basic School Principals in Greater August Town was formed, with the goal of having their curriculum adopted by the Ministry. In furtherance of this initiative, the UWI has offered a number of scholarships to teachers at these institutions so they can get formal training.

In conjunction with the HEART Trust/NTA, the UWI has also established a skills training programme, aimed at providing certification to those employed in the UWI’s maintenance department, as well as others within the wider community. The programme provides training in construction, plumbing, electrical work, painting, auto skills, among others. There is also a remedial training programme in literacy and numeracy, which targets persons who did not meet the criteria to go directly into training.

The office of the principal has invested some $2 million in phase one of the project. Olivene Burke, project officer says the initiative is crucial to the establishment of a lasting and beneficial relationship between the university and the greater August Town community.

“Basically what we’re doing is pulling on the resources of the university. We want to put the image out there that we care for the community as much as we would want them to care for us.”

The university is currently in discussions with Jamaica National Building Society, to create a unique mortgage arrangement for community members. Once this is finalised, the UWI hopes there will be a sustained and continuous flow of students as boarders within the community. This will help home owners to better meet monthly mortgage payments.

Other initiatives include trauma counselling by the Department of Community Health and Psychology, restoration projects by the UWI Quality Leadership programme, in addition to the furnishing of computers at the Hope Outreach and Educational Centre located at the Haven Hope Open Bible Church.

By establishing the UWI Township Project, the university has set the stage for what promises to be a holistic and long-term developmental programme that is expected to see direct benefits for thousands of persons within the greater August Town community. The project has undoubtedly sent a potent signal to community members that the UWI is also their place to shine.

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