17-year-old partners with Sandals Foundation
A life of charity has taken 17-year-old Morgan Gonzalez from Miami, Florida to the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains where she handed over US$5,900 to the Sandals Foundation to build a classroom for Marie Cole Primary School.
Marie Cole, built for 170 students and opened in 1968, is located on the south coast in the Burnt Ground District of St Elizabeth. Currently, the school has approximately 16 teachers and more than 400 students.
Gonzalez first learned about Marie Cole through photographs, where one set of grade six students without a traditional classroom and taking classes in an old bus which had been fashioned into a room, furnished with desks, chairs and a chalkboard.
“These children should have so much more than they have, but they don’t ask for anything,” said Gonzalez, who noted this charity means a lot to her. “If I could wake up every day and be there for these children, I would do it.”
School principal Delmas Smith who has held this position for the past four years, revealed that the students have been learning inside the bus structure since September 2009.
“There was an urgent need for room that year as we ended up not having space for 30 students,” Smith told the Sandals Foundation.
While telling the story of how the ‘bus classroom’ came into being, Smith recalled a conversation he had with a man who owned buses.
“He told me that a bus could be turned into a classroom. I didn’t believe it at first but I went and checked out an old bus and it could be done. So I said, ‘I’m going to go ahead, we need the space.’”
Within two years after Smith acted, Gonzalez, who has been working with charities – such as Zoo Miami and Habitat for Humanity – for more than five years, fell in love with Marie Cole and started working on her
dream of getting the children into a traditional classroom.
She developed a website, Classes for Marie Cole, with information on the project and how to donate to the Sandals Foundation, who would be overseeing the construction efforts. In addition, she sold school books and facilitated a school supplies drive that brought in packs of construction paper; tools such as pencils, pens, crayons, markers, and more than 70 books. These were donated along with sporting gear at the handover of funds, which took place on June 19.
“I must admit I was pretty surprised that a teenager had jumped at the need for a classroom,” Smith said with laughter.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez stressed the importance of filling needs that exist in the world.
“So many people have been blessed with the things that others desperately need,” she said. “We should help others because they are experiencing things that are completely preventable. All they need are the right resources.”
Gonzalez chose the Sandals Foundation, philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International, to oversee the project in her absence.
“The Sandals Foundation is truly touched by Morgan’s dedication which will benefit over 400 students here in Jamaica. We hope that her actions will inspire and help young people to understand that no matter what age you are, you can make a positive impact on the lives of others,” said Heidi Clarke, Sandals Foundation’s director of programmes.