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Ridiculed for being illiterate, man now teaching literacy at YMCA

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, November 08, 2019

Jamiel Forrest was devastated when, after joking that he would secure a place at Calabar High School in St Andrew after sitting the then Grade Six Achievement Test, a woman from his community told him that the only bar he would be attending was a rum bar.

When the results were released, Forrest who was 11 years old at the time and unable to read was placed at Red Hills All-Age School in St Andrew.

Months later, his parents were introduced to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and he was immediately enrolled.

“I came here in grade seven. When I came here I did the reading test and I was reading below grade one level, basic school reading, probably lower,” Forrest told the Jamaica Observer Wednesday following the media launch of the association's 100th anniversary at its base on Hope Road in St Andrew.

“I eventually moved into Ms Hunter's class. When she went on the board and wrote the word 'huge', she said, 'Jamiel, what is that word?' I said, 'Hug'. She said no, she told me about when two vowels are in a word and the short and long vowels,” Forrest said, adding that eventually he got it right.

That was the motivation he needed to begin reading.

Noting that it became easy for him to read, Forrest said he began reading the newspapers every day.

According to him, he was reading at a grade nine level when he was introduced to the high school programme.

By this time, his tenure at YMCA came to an abrupt end.

He was relocated to St Mary where he attended Brimmer Vale High School for six months before returning to Kingston.

“Because of circumstances, my parents relocated back to town and they got me into St Andrew College, and from there I did my CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) exams. I got seven subjects. I got a scholarship to Quality Academics where I did CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam) subjects in the sciences,” a shy, but proud Forrest explained.

Now, the 22-year-old Forrest said his ambition is to study the stars, planets and other natural objects in space.

As he moves closer towards his dream, while teaching literacy at YMCA, he is hoping to secure a full scholarship at a university overseas.

“YMCA is a holistic programme, not just academics. It teaches you about life, social graces, and those things. YMCA is not just a school, it is a home. A lot of the students come here without lunch money and the teachers go into their pockets to help them out,” Forrest emphasised.