From Guys Hill to Atlanta: why I absolutely must help my school

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Monday, October 29, 2018

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While working at software company Hewlett-Packard in Atlanta, Georgia, 10 years ago, Cornel Levy approached management there for equipment to start a computer lab at his alma mater, Guy's Hill High School (GHHS) in Jamaica. His request was denied, but that did not discourage him.

Using his own funds, he shipped a barrel containing 10 computers to the school in 2010. That initiative led to Levy reaching out to other GHHS past students to help the institution located on the St Mary-St Catherine border.

Out of these discussions ConnectJA was formed seven years ago by Levy, who has been president of the non-profit organisation since. His team includes vice president Natalee Bailey and chief fundraiser Margaret Gordon, also past students of GHHS.

According to Levy, ConnectJA had surpassed his expectations. “Every school that has asked us to donate books or computers, we have satisfied those requests,” he said.

Levy, who attended GHHS from 1975-80, worked with HP for 18 years but maintained close ties with family and friends in Guys Hill. While talking with his cousin Vivine Buddo, a teacher at the school, he found out that they did not have a proper cyber department.

Through ConnectJA, the school now has a 40-computer media centre which opened in January 2017. The launch was attended by Minister of Education Ruel Reid and Gary Allen, managing director of the RJR Group of Companies.

“Our greatest achievements over the last eight years is that we've shipped over 20,000 books which were delivered to Guys Hill High School and feeder schools in the Guys Hill, St Catherine, area,” Levy told the Jamaica Observer.

“Further, we have sponsored one student from grade nine through sixth form. That student graduated last school year, and we are currently sponsoring two other students that we will take from grade nine to sixth form. This sponsorship entails, uniforms, books and any tuition that these students need,” he added.

ConnectJA's latest project is helping to build a Robotics Lab at GHHS. Levy said the computers have already been purchased, but shipping them to Jamaica, like previous ventures, is expensive.

“Our biggest obstacles is finances! We do all of these things out of pocket and our few members dig deeply to ensure that our promises are kept. So we need people with expertise to write grants and proposals. We need donations to help offset our high shipping expenses,” he said.

Until he and his colleagues raise funds to ship items, the lab is on hold.

Levy was born in Guys Hill, a farming area often claimed by people from St Catherine and St Mary due to its complicated boundary. After leaving GHHS, he attended Charlie Smith Comprehensive High School, then migrated to the United States.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from New York University, a Master of Science in Information Assurance from Norwich University in Vermont, and a PhD from Capella University in Minnesota.

Levy credits much of the strides he and ConnectJA members have made to GHHS, which opened in 1971 as a junior secondary school. He believes it is crucial they not only help improve conditions at their old school, but Jamaica's education system as well.

“It is absolutely critical that we impact those schools where there are students who cannot afford to support themselves. It is very important that we take that burden off the parents who do not have the wherewithal to help these students,” he said.

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