Gifts of love from a Peace Corps volunteerMonday, May 08, 2017
BY GARFIELD MYERS
Santa Cruz , St Elizabeth — When he was 18 years old, Kevin McClellan left his comfortable suburban community, close to Chicago in Illinois, USA, for a trip to central Africa.That experience changed his life. “That's when I learnt that there is a different world out there and that a lot of people need help,” McClellan told Jamaica Observer Central.
Driven by his experiences in Africa as a teenager and an enduring urge to help those in greatest need, he joined the Peace Corps, the US volunteer movement which sends “motivated change makers” around the globe.
That's how it came about that, in March 2015, McClellan arrived in the scenic, windswept community of Stanmore, just west of Malvern in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Since then, until his departure last month — following a touching farewell reception — McClellan, referred to as 'Mr Mac', served at the local school, St Alban's Primary, as a literacy teacher, helping slow readers to “discover the light”.
McClellan quickly learnt that the school had major problems. Most crucially, that many of the approximately 60 registered children were from impoverished homes, living miles away without vehicular transportation, having to walk lonely roads through farmland and wilderness.
Assisted by generous contributions from past students overseas and locally, as well as community-based fund-raisers, Principal Chris Dubidad attempted the hiring of transportation to get the children to school. But then the money would run out and everyone would be back to square one.
The school leadership decided from as far back as 2014 that the only sustainable way forward was for the school to acquire a vehicle to take the children to school. The issue became especially worrying for school leadership in the periods April-July and September-November when rain is at its most intense and lightning poses a fearsome threat.
The problem was how to raise enough money. Donations came, but not enough. When St Alban's placed second in the Toyota Jamaica Bus Di School competition last year, the cash prize of $150,000 proved helpful, but it was still not enough.
Then McClellan chipped in. As explained by him, he made contact with his parents, family and friends “back home” in Illinois, seeking help. Fund-raisers organised by them soon generated US$13,000.
Along with funds raised locally and from donors abroad, the gift from McClellan's relatives and friends in Illinois proved the clincher.
St Alban's Primary purchased an eight-seater Toyota bus which, when properly licensed, is set to take children to school, doing at least two trips each morning.
Dubidad expects that it will also make life easier in terms of school outings and engagements.
The school principal knows the problems are not over and that, in fact, there will be new ones.
“We are going to have maintenance and other costs to deal with, at some point we may need a bigger vehicle, we will have to pay the driver, and parents will have to do their part, but now we know we are in a far better place,” he said.
Dubidad heaped praise on McClellan, who he said had made a “great contribution” to education at St Alban's. Dubidad told Observer Central that McClellan had also contributed 35 electronic tablets to assist the school's literacy programme.
“Since we have had the tablets, attendance and punctuality have skyrocketed because everybody (children) wants to get on,” said a smiling Dubidad.
So where did the money come from to buy the tablets? “I purchased them with my tax returns,” revealed McClellan with a chuckle.
And though he had to leave, McClellan said he was already planning his return. “I will be back, hopefully by the end of the year. I love Jamaica and I love this place (Stanmore),” he said.
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