BEING a trained engineer, Alphie Mullings-Aiken is good at solving problems, but of late she has been focusing her 'fix-it' mentality on finding solutions to some of Jamaica's social problems as she works with children and young people.
As the president for Junior Achievement Jamaica, the local affiliate of Junior Achievement International, Mullings-Aiken assists with inspiring and empowering young people as she exposes them to life lessons to unleash their inner strength.
For years she has been doing so from a distance as a volunteer with Junior Achievement in the US, but five years ago she decided to uproot her family from their home in Connecticut and relocate here to lend her assistance on a much wider scale.
"At that time I wasn't looking to move because I was quite comfortable. I was working, I was married, I had two kids and was climbing the corporate ladder," said the mother of two little boys.
Mullings-Aiken first got involved with Junior Achievement while doing her internship with General Electric in New York. The internship experience required her to volunteer with the non-profit organisation, and so she went into the classroom to teach. She primarily taught her young pupils about entrepreneurship, their community and financial literacy.
"At that young age it was very age-appropriate. The students loved it and I remember about two weeks after, I got a little thank-you card in the mail from them saying, 'Thank you for taking the time to come to the classroom'," she said.
"That's how I got involved with it, loved it, and it made me want to go back in the classroom and volunteer some more, and I did that for about 13 years," she told All Woman.
Following her internship and upon completing her degree in electrical engineering at City University of New York, Mullings-Aiken was offered a full-time position at General Electric, and gradually moved up the ranks to a managerial position.
Prior to moving to Jamaica, she was tasked with managing the company's global commercial digitisation procedures.
No matter how demanding her job became, Mullings-Aiken found time to volunteer with Junior Achievement and managed to form relationships with other volunteers around the world. She would also visit Jamaica at least once per year with her family to relax and catch up on the happenings in the country of her birth. Although she migrated to the US with her family when she was about nine years old, she was intent on maintaining her Jamaican connection.
"It was maybe around the 12th year or so [of being in Junior Achievement] that I spoke to a few other Jamaicans who work for GE in the US and said, 'Why don't we do something in Jamaica, like do a project?' So we actually went to Mandeville, Rose Hill, and we volunteered at a primary school there," she said.
The group brought items such as knapsacks, footballs and calculators and also spent some time painting the school and interacting with the students.
"When we talked to the students, they were very excited about the programme, and about us spending the time to paint and do all those things. When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, the responses were so mediocre. They were not thinking big. At that age when you are in primary school you should be thinking you could conquer the world. So it was very disheartening when I talked to the students and they were saying, 'I want to work in a hotel' and not run a hotel, own a hotel, or manage a hotel," she said.
That experience inspired the group to start looking into how they could re-introduce the Junior Achievement programme here, since the project had previously existed, but had fallen by the wayside. The more the group spoke and made their connections, the more obvious it became that someone would need to relocate here and manage it to provide training and guarantee its success.
Mullings-Aiken, who had just completed her executive MBA, was approached to consider taking on this responsibility.
"I said, you know what, let me speak to my family about it. It was a tough conversation, because it was not a part of the plans that we had been discussing, even the plans that were in my mind. We would come down to Jamaica once a year for vacation, but living here is very different. So it was a big change, but I have zero regrets," she said.
Mullings-Aiken had initially planned to stay for two years, but it has now been five years since she returned home.
"I have already started to see the fruits of the labour that we have done here," she said.
"I think the most fulfilling thing for me is when we see the students and when we now ask them what they want to be like from grade one up, they have big dreams. Now I can't foresee what will come down the road for these students, but I feel that they will be better prepared to handle it, better prepared to look and see whether these big obstacles that seemed so huge before are just a bunch of little stones, and if I chip away from it, I can conquer it."