Friday, 9 October 2015

COVER STORY: At 15, Fair Play Awards maintains strong commitment to honouring excellent Jamaica journalism

MAKING NEWS: Levy, with The Gleaner's Tameka Gordon at Tuesday's awards presentation at the Terra Novel Hotel in St, Andrew.

For Christopher Levy, the Fair Play Awards amount to this: maintaining impeccable high standards and rewarding excellence in Jamaican journalism, as the professionals in the field diligently seek to enhance the quality of their work. “We recognize the importance that the media has on the national conversation and part of our responsibility is to challenge members of the profession to ensure that their work remains at the highest possible standard,” Levy says. “Journalism has to not only be informative but also relevant to national decision-making.”

After 15 years, the President and CEO says he’s proud of what Jamaica Broilers has achieved in this regard, challenging journalists to rise to the occasion and paying tribute to the best of the best with the kind of reward and encouragement that sweetens labour. “As a company you’re always looking for ways to have a national impact apart from just the growth of your business,” the second-generation businessman tells TALLAWAH, “so I like to think of the Fair Play Awards as a testament to Jamaica Broilers’ commitment in this area. The growth of the awards speaks for itself, and it has more or less taken on a life of its own.”

According to chief judge, Dr. Hopeton Dunn, the 2015 crop of entries (largely human interest pieces) ranked among the most “strong and competitive” he’s encountered in recent memory, which made the adjudication process that much more challenging. A total of seven media houses submitted 30 entries in all (19 in the print category, four in radio and seven for television). In the end, the top prize going ($500,000 and a trophy) went to TV-J’s “Business on Back Road”, which the judges hailed as “a brave and investigative story… well-focused and reported with energy and enthusiasm.” To say the least, the win represents a coup for the consistently outstanding media house’s six-member team comprised of Nadine McLeod, Kirk Wright, Shakir Brown, Talawa Levy, Anthony James and Carlton McCarthy.

Meanwhile, second place went to The Gleaner Company’s Tameka Gordon for her informative piece “NHT Acquires Outameni”, while the third-place award (a tie) went to Global Reporters for the Caribbean/18 Degrees North (“Ordered to Kill?”) and the Nationwide News Network for their “Krauck and Anchor Chronicle.”

Looking ahead, Dunn says a commitment to depth of reporting, fairness, accuracy and balance will take Jamaican journalists, especially the up-and-comers, a far way. “It is always a pleasure,” Dunn says, “to come across work that delve into issues that are having national impact.”

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Thursday, 8 October 2015

LEARNING CURVE: Principal Donna Lowe aims to transform Genesis Academy into a special place for special-needs kids

TEAM WORK: Lowe (right) and administrative assistant Marcia Gordon look over growth plans for the institution. (below) A class in progress.

“It’s always an anxiety for parents about lies ahead for their children, but I think the main concern we all have is, ‘Will my child be normal?’” That’s an observation coming from Donna Lowe, principal of the Genesis Academy, a school of excellence for students with learning challenges that’s based on South Camp Road in Kingston – now celebrating 12 years of highly commendable contribution to the education sector.

With an enrollment of almost 100 students (ranging in age from 12 to 25 years), Genesis caters to children readily classified as “challenged” (physically, intellectually, you name it), but Lowe and her devoted staff of 20 (teachers and versatile caregivers) pride themselves on going the extra mile in providing the students with a well-rounded educational experience – an experience that stands to rival what’s available in ‘regular’ schools across Jamaica.

“We work with the mild to the severely challenged, but we follow the same curriculum that is used in the other schools but at a slower pace,” explains Lowe, who has been principal at Genesis since 2012. To Lowe’s mind, what makes Genesis special and sets it apart from other Jamaican-based special-ed institutions isn’t limited to the Christian values they instill in the student body but the dynamic approach the administration takes to education as a whole. As such, exposing the students to wide-ranging experiences for their betterment – from the classroom to the stage to the playing field – ranks highly on their list of priorities.

That perhaps explains why, since 2007, so many of their students have represented Jamaica at the Special Olympics – an achievement too notable to ignore. Says Lowe, “We encourage the parents to put them in sports because like average students they may not excel academically but they may excel in other areas, and what we have found is that a lot of them enjoy sports.” Lowe knows what she’s talking about. Her own son, Jonathan, (now 30 and a past student of Genesis) was a member of the Team Jamaica contingent that took part in the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles, where Jonathan won a gold medal for swimming. His new wife, whom he met while attending the school, won her gold medal for bocce.
‘Triumphs’ like these, Lowe confesses, make the daily challenges worth it and provide much encouragement to carry on. What’s more, she says, the sacrifices founder Pauline Beaumont (who started Genesis in her living room on Windsor Avenue) made have paid off ten-fold. “We’re planning to host more parenting seminars because when you think about the extra pressure that parents with special-needs kids are under, they really need all the help they can get,” Lowe, 57, says reclining behind her office desk. “Mrs. Beaumont had the vision to start a school like this, and it’s now a success story. I wasn’t happy with what I saw happening in Jamaica for special needs students until I joined up with her. I was one of the first five parents when the school started in 2003 and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Building the Genesis reputation is a work in progress. In addition to making improvements to their fund-raising machinery and their academic offerings, ranging from music therapy, art therapy and speech therapy to data operation, commercial food preparation and art-and-craft, Lowe makes it clear that much of their focus rests on what happens to the kids after they graduate from Genesis. “One of the areas in which I’d like to see some serious changes is in the creation of job opportunities for them. I hope the country will progress to the stage where it is mandated that a percentage of the workforce must be represented by members of the disabled community,” she notes. “We can’t prepare them for the working world and them watch as they end up sitting down jobless.”

The efforts of the Genesis Academy staff and the results they produce have not gone unnoticed by the authorities. “We are rather impressed with the administration, the teaching and learning activities, classroom environment, the tone and atmosphere,” the Ministry of Education has said in their assessment. “The school is doing a tremendous job, which is badly needed in this particular area.” As for the future growth of the institution after 12 years, the sky is the limit. “We are growing and I’m thankful. It has been a journey, so we are hoping to be able to build on this,” Lowe says. “I don’t worry anymore because I know God will open doors for us.”

> To learn more about the Genesis Academy, visit their website

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Monday, 5 October 2015

GOING PLACES: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce reflects on her alma mater, honouring the icons, and her Namibian getaway

MISS SAFARI: Fraser-Pryce ventures where the wild things are. (Inset) with Douglas Orane at Wolmer's Boys on Friday.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce travels the world for work – Zurich, Sydney, Beijing, you name it – and though her heart belongs to Jamrock, she readily confesses to having a soft spot for Africa. As it turns out, the petite speedster recently got back from an odyssey in Namibia, where she found an overabundance of breathtaking landscapes, gorgeous wildlife, and powerful life lessons.

“What I appreciate most about that experience was the opportunity to actually learn about the country,” she tells TALLAWAH. “Sometimes when you go on vacation you get so caught up with the shopping and the food that you forget to appreciate some of the more important things like the people and the culture and the history. This was a life-changing experience for me but a very enjoyable one.”

Fraser-Pryce, who spent a whole week in Namibia and has shared photo highlights from her trip with fans on social media, says a repeat visit to the African territory could be in the cards. “Definitely. There is so much to see and learn there. We went to several different parts of the country, and everywhere you go there’s some amazing knowledge to appreciate. I had a great time.”

Back on home soil, the golden girl slipped into celebration mode this past weekend (looking stunning in a form-fitting cocoa-coloured dress) to help her alma mater unveil the new Douglas Orane Auditorium on the Wolmer’s Boys campus and honour living legends Edward Seaga and Sybil Eloise Francis, who were inducted into the newly launched Wolmer’s Hall of Fame. “I feel honoured to be able to share in such an occasion and to give back to a school that has contributed so significantly to my development,” Fraser-Pryce says. “It is important to pay tribute to those who have done so much for us, the new generation, by paving the way.”

So what were her Wolmer’s Girls years like? She laughs. “My years at Wolmer’s were very different. I was a little troublemaker. But not in a bad, out-of-hand way. We knew how to have a good time and still get the work done.” By all appearances, the World’s Fastest Woman still does. Then she adds this: “My Wolmer’s teachers like Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. Montague gave me hope and encouraged me to aspire to greater things in life. And because of them I was able to step into that boldness.”

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POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Customer service takes the spotlight for national week of activities

TOP OF THE CLASS: Members of Sagicor Life Jamaica's Customer Service Department in celebration mode. (below) Richard Rowe.

Who says putting the consumer first has gone out of style? With a renewed mission, members of the Jamaica Customer Service Association (JACSA) kicked off the 2015 series of events to mark National Customer Service Week (October 4-10) with Sunday-morning worship at the Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Liguanea. Observing the theme “Service Excellence: Engaging Our Workforce, Building Jamaica,” the 14-year-old organization has vowed to take its work of improving Jamaica’s customer service landscape to new heights. Group spokesman Richard Rowe (JACAS Deputy Chair) tells us more.

TALLAWAH: Is customer service on the improve in Jamaica?
Richard Rowe: It is improving because you see where customers are being a little bit more aware of their rights and are making more demands. With the current economic conditions, you’re gonna have challenges but everything takes time. It is not where we want it to be, but improved customer service is definitely on the rise in Jamaica.

TALLAWAH: This week brings the 2015 observance of National Customer Service Week. What does the association hope to accomplish?
R.R.: Well, this week, as the theme makes clear, speaks to engaging the Jamaican workforce and collaborating with the relevant customer service providers to get them properly attuned to the needs of their customers and the importance of those needs being met by the organization. It is only be addressing the deficiencies and the shortcomings that we will see greater improvement in customer service across the island.

TALLAWAH: Today JACSA is made up of over 200 professional customer service providers. How does one become a member of the association?
R.R.: You become a member by first making contact with us. We then send you a membership application form, which you fill out and return to us. Membership is open to individuals and corporate bodies. We then invite you to our meetings to share more information and then take it from there.

TALLAWAH: As we all know, Jamaicans can be very hard to please. How does JACSA go about addressing the customer-service concerns of the general public?
R.R.: We are a professional organization and a membership organization. We try to address the needs of our members first. But each year when we have this week, we seek to create greater awareness about customer service among the wider public and challenge the organizations to raise their standards. This year in particular we hope to garner the support and build the partnerships necessary to raise the level of customer service nationally.

TALLAWAH: What makes October so special for an observance like National Customer Service Week?
R.R.: I have no idea (Laughs). In 1992, it was declared by the then US President that the first week of October would be dedicated to customer service, and 16 years later Jamaica started dedicating the first week of October to customer service as well, thanks to former Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall.

TALLAWAH: What’s next for the association? What big plans are afoot?
R.R.: JACSA is committed to leading the charge to secure better customer service for Jamaican consumers, and so come next year we will be rolling out a national customer service campaign, which you will hear more about when it is launched during our 2016 week of activities. 

TALLAWAH: What is ideal customer service?
R.R.: Ideal customer service is an expression of care and love for the person you serve, delivered with the emotional intelligence that is needed to not just satisfy the customer but to exceed their expectations.

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CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: Based on true events, Everest delivers a shock-and-awe spectacle

ICE COUNTRY: Josh Brolin, as Dallas native Beck Weathers, in a scene from the action-adventure drama.

“There is competition between every person and this mountain, but the last word always belongs to the mountain.” Fair warning. That’s a telling line issued midway the new action-adventure drama Everest, which takes its name from the highest point on planet Earth. The lengthy 3D film, directed by Baltasar Kormakur, chronicles the tragic, yes-it-really-happened incident in 1996, where a group of mountaineers on their way from the summit lost their lives in a blinding snowstorm. 

Counted among the dead was Rob Paulson, the charismatic and heroic team leader who helmed the expedition and who is played here with verve and steely resolve by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty). Jake Gyllenhaal (all beard and hippie chic) plays Scott Fischer, the other team leader. Exploring themes of family, courage and the perpetual saga of Man vs. Nature, Everest reminds us that, in spite of that admirable spirit of adventure that so often threatens to overwhelm us, some roads are best left untravelled. 

Watching the horror of the disastrous weather conditions (frightful blizzard, freezing temperatures) snuffing out the lives of these thrill-seekers, you feel for their relatives back home – women like Rob’s pregnant, distraught wife Jan (Keira Knightley), whose child (named Sarah in keeping with Rob’s wishes) never got to meet her father, and Peach Weathers (Robin Wright), whose blunt and get-things-done mentality spurred the American and Tibetan authorities into action and got her badly bruised husband (Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers) back on American soil, via helicopter, to the safety of his Dallas home and to the welcoming arms of his two young children. 

“Why are you climbing Everest?” Yasuko Namba, the 42-year-old Japanese woman in the group said she had already climbed six of the world’s seven highest mountains and reaching the top of Everest was next on her list. One Caucasian man offered, “Because I can. To climb it and see a view that nobody else sees, it would be a crime not to.” Doug Hansen (played by John Hawkes) said, “This is my last chance to to do this.” And he was right. Though he made it to the top, he never made it back home. 

For me, a movie like Everest (packed with a surplus of special effects, grand-scale 3D cinematography and appearances from other major-league actors like Sam Worthington and Emily Watson) drives home the simple yet hauntingly powerful refrain: To each his own. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

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Saturday, 3 October 2015

PIONEER SPIRIT: Douglas Orane wants to collaborate with local schools + Sybil Francis gets her due

GOING THE DISTANCE: When Douglas Orane made his retirement from GraceKennedy official last year, he knew his next act would include some form of philanthropy – specifically doing work that would significantly impact the lives of Jamaica’s emerging generation. Spearheading the construction of a new $170-million auditorium (named after him) at Wolmer’s Boys Schools, his alma mater, Orane is off to a splendid start. “I am blessed, and I am just so happy to see this building that will be used by about 3500 people finally becoming a reality and the look on the students’ faces. It’s overwhelming,” Orane told TALLAWAH following the official opening on Friday at the school. Unsurprisingly, the work continues. “It cost us about $170 million to build but we still need another $11 million to make some important additions,” Orane said. And now that he has some free time, Orane says he wants to offer his services to other local schools who want to sample the Wolmer’s formula. “Other schools have asked, ‘How did you do it?’ I’ll show you,” he promises. “It demands a lot of commitment, but all we have to do is apply ourselves diligently. I’m looking forward to serving our younger generation in Jamaica. It’s a privilege for me.” 

SISTER, SISTER: Sybil Eloise Francis, now 102 and a living legend in the field of social work, was inducted into the Wolmer’s Hall of Fame on Friday. Due to ill health, she was unable to attend the ceremony, but her two younger sisters, Kathleen and Joyce Johnson, attended on her behalf. “We’ll tell her all about it,” the nonagenarians joked in their reply, after Francois St. Juste read a long citation highlighting Francis’ yeoman service to the National Council on Aging and her pioneering work in the practice and advancement of social work in Jamaica. Said Joyce (right), “Sybil has been an inspiration not only our family but to the entire Jamaica.”

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MAN OF DISTINCTION: Hall of Famer Edward Seaga salutes the Wolmer’s spirit, donates musical equipment

PRESENT PERFECT: Seaga accepts an Everard Powell-designed plaque from Olympian Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce during Friday's ceremony.

“I’m 85 and still alive.” You have to hand it to Edward Seaga – the original architect of the classic sound byte. The former Jamaican prime minister, looking dapper and in the pink of health, was on Friday responding on behalf of all the honorees who were inducted into the Wolmer’s Hall of Fame – 14 distinguished alumni (including six former principals) and two living legends (Seaga and social work stalwart Sybil Eloise Francis) – at Wolmer’s Boys School, during a well-attended ceremony that coincided with the official unveiling of the stunning new Douglas Orane Auditorium.

It was only natural that Mr. Seaga would pay homage to the institution that helped mould him into the esteemed history-maker we have come to know and respect. “This is a secondary school that has renewed itself. It has added without subtracting and that’s wonderful,” Seaga said in praise of his alma mater. “It’s encouraging to see what has happened to Wolmer’s. What can we say about a school that has two arms to work with and is using both? We say let others do the same. Let them realize that where we are is a fraction of where we should be and will be tomorrow.”

Seaga, whose family (wife Carla and son Christopher) were on hand to witness him receiving this latest honour, announced that he would be donating eight pieces of musical equipment to the school – perfect for the auditorium. “I remember in my days we had some of the best instructors inspiring us and paving the way, and I would like that to continue. My Wolmer’s life was an unforgettable experience.”

Long considered an iconic political figure of post-colonial Jamaica, Edward Seaga, whose most famous lines include “Retiring is too tiring”, has spent much of his post-politics life picking up awards and being conferred with honorary degrees locally, regionally and internationally. In 2002, the former JLP leader and West Kingston MP received the Order of the Nation from the people of Jamaica and in 2005 was named a Distinguished Fellow of the University of the West Indies.

On Friday, he led an accomplished cast of Wolmer’s alumni, living and deceased, who made up the first batch of inductees ushered into the venerable institution’s Hall of Fame. Amy Jacques Garvey, Sir Herbert McDonald, Miriam Speid, Sir John Stanley Mordecai, Ebenezer Reid and Sir Florizel Glasspole topped the list.


> PRIDE AND PASSION: New Wolmer’s auditorium continues the institution’s vision for progress

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