AT the diamond jubilee of her life, Professor Rosalea Hamilton, CEO of the Lasco Chin Foundation, believes that the positive impact that she has had on the lives of her fellow Jamaicans is her greatest achievement.
“When people can say to you that, “You've made me a better person,” or “You helped me to do something that I wouldn't have done by myself”, that to me is the highest accolade that you can get,” she told All Woman at her Red Hills Road offices last Tuesday.
“The truth is that with all the titles and all the excitement that we carry on with while walking through this earth, we all will end up the same place. When we are sick and in the hospital we feel the same pain,” she said. “We're here on this planet for a few years, and the real purpose of life, I think, is to make a difference in the lives of others.”
And indeed the life that Professor Hamilton has led so far is reflective of that belief. For her outstanding contribution to national development, she was the recipient of the Soroptimist International Club of Jamaica's 2018 Stella Gregory Award, which was presented to her on November 24.
Professor Hamilton was among the first batch of students to attend Our Lady of the Angels Preparatory School in St Andrew.
“I actually started at two years old,” she laughed. “My older sister was starting school, and my mom said I was crying uncontrollably so she couldn't keep me at home.”
At that time her family was living at the corner of Content Avenue and Waltham Park Road. “When I was about five or so we moved to Red Hills, so I grew up in Belvedere.”
After attending Immaculate Conception High school, Professor Hamilton migrated and obtained her undergraduate degree in social sciences at Middlesex Polytechnic (now Middlesex University) in London.
“Growing up I always wanted to be lawyer,” she confessed. “But by the time I was making the decision about studies, I felt I was doing it only because my parents wanted it, so I did social sciences specialising in psychology. I thought that a big part of the problems in society had to do with how we think, how we behave, and our attitudes.”
But by the time Professor Hamilton completed her undergraduate studies, she was convinced that Jamaica's societal ills had more to do with the state of the economy.
“At the end of the four years I was caught up in the international conversation about the unequal trade that had created the problems in the economy. In fact I was very active in the anti-apartheid struggle as a student on campus. I got into that conversation of what was happening in the world, and what was happening to African countries and developing countries.”
From this experience Professor Hamilton decided to engage in global economic issues more formally, so she attained a master's degree in international affairs at Columbia University in New York. Still, she didn't feel as if she fully understood what was happening, so she took on a PhD.
“It gave me a chance to look at government, and government responses to development challenges. But at the end of the PhD I still felt as if I didn't know enough, so I decided to do a law degree.”
She smiled as she remembered how she rebelled against law in her younger years.
“At that point I was mature enough to recognise that I really wanted to do law, but not for the reasons I did as a child. I really was interested in jurisprudence and constitutional law, and how we translate these economic ideas about development into legislative and regulatory arrangements that can facilitate wealth.”
Motivated by the failing health of her father, Professor Hamilton came home to help with the family business, and she did this while completing her law degree at the Norman Manley Law School. Her father passed shortly after, and she moved into government, first at the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
“I was driven to go into government because, through the lenses of my business, I saw the struggle of wood workers, and felt that we had to do something more developed and strategic to help men — men who had been marginalised, and had found some kind of source of income. I felt that if I got actively involved in government that I could help to shape some of those decisions that would help.”
As a consultant in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, as it was at the time, Professor Hamilton was able to help shape Jamaica's trade policy in response to what was happening globally. She also tried to help with the positioning of Jamaica's negotiations and discussions through her advice to the minister, she said. She then went on to advise then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
“I felt that, in summary, the different agendas, the different motivations that make up the people in politics made it difficult to get a coherent kind of strategy going. Understandably, everybody has different views about how we should move forward. I thought that the policies needed to be more grounded in the realities of our people to be more effective.”
Hamilton then went on to serve as vice-president of community service and development at the University of Technology, Jamaica, where she led the Fi Wi Jamaica Project, a three-year national social intervention project, funded by USAID, that targeted socially excluded and vulnerable Jamaicans, including women and girls.
Now at the helm of the Lasco Chin Foundation, Professor Hamilton is in charge of what she describes as her life's purpose — helping others. Her most treasured intervention, however, took place in her own home. With no biological children, she raised two boys as her own, who would have otherwise been at risk.
“One was about 10 when I met him, and the other was about 15,” she beamed. “I helped to support them. I raised them with the help of their parents. One is now working as an assistant manager and one is the CEO of a non-government organisation. I like to think that I've contributed to two less young men who are likely to encounter the criminal justice system.”
At 60, Professor Hamilton said she thinks she has done as much as she could with what she has been given in life.
“I don't have a lot of personal goals anymore,” she said. “I have a lot of organisational goals. I believe that the foundation, with the awesome leadership of Lascelles Chin, can spearhead and be part of a coalition of individuals and organisations that can truly make a difference in transforming Jamaica.”
Though she has been lauded for her accomplishments, Professor Hamilton says she doesn't take credit for them, as she could have done nothing on her own.
“It's not just about me; it's not about what I do, because I couldn't have done it without a support system. Mrs Norma Morgan in the Office of the Prime Minister, then at UTech, provided unshakeable support and competent assistance that allowed me to look good. Lisa Bender in the office at the university was very sharp. She was much more than an administrative assistant. Also the project manager at the Fi Wi Jamaica Project, Tahirah Johnson (now Fraser), is a really remarkable woman. She is now with me at the Lasco Chin foundation. Without these people I would have been much less effective.”
When she manages to pull herself from work, Professor Hamilton will listen to music and watch a movie, preferably one that is powerful enough to make her cry.
“I'm trying to find that balance to do a little relaxation. I'm trying to do more family time. I'm very close with my older sister, Marcia Swaby, and I love spending time with my seven-year-old grandnephew, Storm.”
Professor Hamilton said she has worked a lot with the South African concept of Ubuntu — “I am because you are” — and it has become a part of who she strives to be.
“I would love to leave a lesson of life, and a life that we all should live to care for others. We should recognise the importance of others and impact them along the way. The more I help you and the more we help others is the more we help ourselves.”