WAKEFIELD, Trelawny — AFTER 50 years in the classroom, early childhood educator Eugene Viviene Blissett Mullings, affectionately called 'Sister Bibi', has decided to call it quits.
But, even as she heads into retirement, 'Sister Bibi', who will celebrate her 75th birthday later this year, has left a parting shot for those coming behind her. She advises ambitious early childhood teachers that unless they have a passion for the sector and their young charges, they should forget about it.
"I have a word for teachers: If anybody would like to go into early childhood institutions (then) know that it is not well paid. And my teachers know that sometimes all three months, no money," she said.
At a dinner put on in her honour by past students of Wakefield Basic School at Glistening Waters Restaurant in Rock, Trelawny last Sunday, Sister 'Bibi' retraced her teaching journey, pointing out that she started at Wakefield Seventh-day Baptist Church five decades ago when a vacancy was created following the passing of the teacher at the time.
Following that death, a member of the church took up the mantle but soon relocated to Westmoreland. This paved the way for another teacher, who after a short stint, urged the then youthful 'Sister Bibi' to assume the post.
When approached, 'Sister Bibi' was doggedly reluctant, but eventually buckled under persistent persuasion.
"When I started out that Monday morning I remember it was about 55 children present the morning. And the fee was just six pence a week and I remember I collected 17 and six pence that morning for that week. The next week I collected £1 two and six," the veteran educator recalled.
"Anyway, it went from 55 until later on it went up to 75 , 80 students for that school year. Later on it went on and on," she continued.
Seven years on, construction work to upgrade the church triggered the start of a series of relocations the school would undergo.
"I was there until it was about in 1971 when the church was about to be rebuilt -- because at that time the church was a board structure. So a (church) sister came to me and said: 'Sister Bibi, you know what happen? I got it from the office that you will have to go because when the construction of the church starts, we cannot have the children in the church yard'."
It was a hard blow, but 'Sister Bibi' would not allow the setback to put the brakes on her odyssey in teaching. After renting a spot in the community, she sought assistance from family, church and other community members to secure materials to construct a building to house the school.
"Sunday morning my two brothers, other church brethren and some people from the community went to Dromilly with us, cut the wood and the same day brought it to the spot. One of my brothers, he's a carpenter, he came and hogged out the woods and started to raise up the structure. And then I heard we could get some bamboo around Golden Grove," she recalled.
But her problems were not yet solved, as she had no money for the roof. Members of the comunity, however, came to her aid, and contributed "one, one sheet
" We (also) needed the toilet and I went and begged and I got material and we were able to put up a toilet."
She said that the school, which had no flooring and which became known as the "Bamboo School", continued operating from that location from 1972 until 1977 when a welfare officer ordered that the facility be relocated to a more suitable location at the community centre.
At that time, all the school furniture was borrowed from the church. Operating from the new location would have meant lugging with them from the church to the community centre every Sunday and taking them back on Friday in preparation for church on Saturday.
But the distance proved too much, and for the first week of the new school year, 1977, the schol doors remained closed.
As a solution, 'Sister Bibi' said she obtained wood from a sawmill in the nearby community of Deeside, which her brothers and other community members used to make benches.
A week later, classes started and eventually, more teachers were brought on staff.
However, life at the community centre was not without problems, 'Sister Bibi' said, explaining that the community centre was sometimes used to stage dances and other events. She said that on one occasion while a dance was in progress, fire, believed to have started from a lit cigarette butt, damaged teaching and learning material at the school.
Decades later, Wakefield Basic School has come full circle and is now temporarily located at the Baptist church while the permanent schoolhouse undergoes upgrading work.
"I started right at the church and (as a result of) flooding, we went back to the church twice. And then this company came in and they said they are going to work on the building again and they said it would take only three months. We should have been back by March (but) we are still (at the church)," she said.
Despite all the challenges, however, 'Sister Bibi' declared that the half a century she spent in the classroom has been very fulfilling. She said one of the defining features of her teaching career is that she has been a stickler for discipline.
"I tell you, it is hard work... but I have enjoyed every bit of it! The songwriter said when you have given the best of your service telling the world that the saviour has come do not be dismayed if many even don't believe you but God understands and will say well done," she added.
"Nobody told me to go. [But] this year I will be 75 years old and I have decided that when my birthday come I must not be in the classroom."
During her retirement, 'Sister Bibi' said she intends to write a book on the history of Wakefield Basic.
Meanwhile, past student Delroy Burnett, who journeyed from America to be at the function, called on the Government to honour 'Sister Bibi' with a national award.