Careers & Education

Alpha Boys' Home  - The transformation

BY NADINE WILSON Career & Education reporter

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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IT was supposed to be an institution for wayward boys, but the Alpha Boys' Home has over the years transformed itself into a cultural hub, graced with musical talents and entrepreneurial possibilities.

The success of the school has generated so much interest, that administrators intend to start offering weekly live tours of the institution as of February.

New Hampshire native Joshua Chamberlain was just one of several people who was smitten with the school when he came to Jamaica to write a music feature for a magazine over 10 years ago. He continued to assist with fund-raising initiatives for the institution and started volunteering at the home when he came back in 2007 to pursue his doctoral programme in cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

"Alpha has an amazing collection of historical items which really tells an interesting story from the perspective of Jamaican culture and history," he said. "People show up and they want to come inside to really know that it exists for real; it really has this mythical quality."

The live tours will be held on Fridays after school hours, and its February launch coincides with Reggae Month. It is expected that foreigners, locals and school children will be given an opportunity to learn more about the school's rich musical history, as well as its educational and vocational programmes.

"Alpha offers an educational programme with a principal, teachers, athletic activities, curricular activities, as well as a vocational training system. This includes, agriculture, woodwork, tailoring, screen printing and the best known music," Chamberlain said.

The Alpha Boys' Home was started in the 1880s by the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and currently has a little under 80 boys between the ages of eight and 18 enrolled. Students who attend the South Camp Road-based institution are taught numerous skills to increase their chances of self-sufficiency when they leave.

"Until that point, Alpha is committed to helping them as persons, as individuals -- socially, intellectually, vocationally -- with the goal of being productive and contributing members of society when they leave," Chamberlain said.

"The boys are assigned to Alpha by the Child Development Agency and because of that, all the boys go through the Family Court system and are determined to be in need of protection or safety in some form. There are a couple kids who were picked up off the streets or had no homes to go to," he explained.

The Alpha Boys' Home's accomplishment in the music industry in particular is widely known. The home has an internet-based radio station which is a 24/7 portal that provides authentic Jamaican music to about 40,000 unique listeners from 100 countries monthly. Some of Jamaica's most prominent musicians like jazz men Dizzy Reece and Joe Harriot; ska pioneers Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Cedric Brooks and Tommy McCook who are founding members of the Skatalites; roots reggae vocalist Leroy Smart; and Winston 'Yellowman' Foster have had their start at the all-boys' institution.

It's this rich musical culture that has formed the basis for more recent entrepreneurial activities such as the Alpha Wear Jamaica clothing line that was launched last year. The clothing line received first place in the Pitch to Rich competition at the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship -- Caribbean last year November, and has become increasingly popular with buyers internationally.

"The school is embarking on a new era of innovation, in which music becomes the basis for vocational training in supporting related trades and business opportunities for students to develop their skills," Chamberlain said.

Just recently, the school received a grant from Digicel Jamaica to purchase their own screen-printing machine, which will better enable them to put the school's logo on shirts and tote-bags. Prior to this, the school had been doing

its screen printing at

the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, which is also currently working on a project to have the school make paper from waste generated from their banana trees.

The institution has about three acres of farmland where the boys are able to plant corn, pineapple, cabbage and scallion, among other crops. The crops reaped from this land helps to cut the food bill for the institution.

"The two areas that have been singled out for having the most potential for development is the cultural industry and the agricultural industries, and Alpha has both," Chamberlain said.

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