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Clifton Primary renovation update; also get to know Easton, Co-founder and Treasurer of Reading Owls International (ROI) as he shares his love of reading, his deep involvement with ROI, and why literacy is important to him. 
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Current Occupation: Treasurer at Bain and Company

Favorite Book: My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson

Favorite Reading Quote: "Reading is the journey of those who cannot take the train."


Fast Facts:

  • In Jamaica, children account for 42% of the poor. One in every four children lives in poverty.

  • Many of the communities and schools in Jamaica still rely heavily on low technology, and physical books, yet 44 percent of children do not have a book or learning materials in the home. 

  • The number of students at the primary (elementary) level who pass all sections of the Grade One profile - a required exam used to measure academic progress and social readiness - is just 27 percent. 


Easton, tell me about yourself?

At heart I am a simple, laid back person who loves to relax and do self-directed things.  That is probably a function of genes and upbringing.  My dad is a simple, uncomplicated man, and I grew up in a quiet, nature-filled community that lived life at a very unhurried pace.

My current reality is a far cry from that easy pace; I am a husband, a father, busy finance professional and a not-for-profit leader.  I wish I had twice the hours in the day to give my best to these important callings, and still have enough time for some cherished hobbies such as soccer, writing and reading - lots of reading.

However, I do enjoy my life a lot. Between my wife and kids, I have an abundance of meaning and fun wrapped up in a loving bundle.  The work with Reading Owls allows me to give back to society and share some of my many blessings.  And I am intellectually and relationally stimulated and challenged on a daily basis in my role as Treasurer at Bain and Company.

"When I visit my hometown, and many other communities, it feels like many areas of Jamaica are in a time warp.  The lack that I experienced nearly 40 years ago is still a reality.  Within that context it is difficult for kids to advance out of their current situation."



Where did you get your start academically?

DEEP rural Jamaica, in a poor farming community. I was fortunate to have family members that believed in education and encouraged me to read and do my best in school.  Also, I had a few teachers that took an interest in me during my formative years, to ensure that I kept my focus in primary (elementary) school.  Students back then did not automatically move on to high school, but had to pass a demanding exam.  Those teachers prepared me well, including giving me free extra lessons when my family could not afford to pay.

It is impossible to overstate the value of mentors and positive influencers during those impressionable years.  High school was not an option for most people in my community, and going on to college was extremely rare. It was the norm to matriculate from primary school and go on to vocational work and farming. So it was a profound blessing for me to have individuals that saw my early promise and pushed me to study, read and dream big. Because of them I was successful in my high school exams, and went on to the University of the West Indies in Kingston. Also, I was smart enough to be chosen as a Scotia Bank academic scholarship recipient.  Later, I completed my graduate studies when I moved to the US.


What was the inspiration and motivation behind co-founding ROI?

My wife and co-founder dragged me into it!  Seriously, she was the catalyst for ROI, and by planting the seed she played easily to the latent motivation in me.  That motivation was driven by a confluence of factors. Despite leaving Jamaica almost 20 years ago, I will always be Jamaican, and I am emotionally committed to the well-being of the country.

If you care about the country it is impossible to ignore the crippling lack of opportunity and resources.  There is a desperate need for help, but too often the help is in the form of immediate gratification that does not create a path to self-sufficiency and independence.  It is almost a cliché by now, but education is the best path to sustained, high value advancement for most.
 
So, putting it all together, the motivation for ROI was due to my love for Jamaica, an awareness of the pressing needs, and a belief in education as a key vehicle of success, with reading as its cohort.
 

"Reading shaped me, just as much as I was shaped by my parents or friendships.  I am fortunate that I was exposed to, and gravitated to many high character heroes,  from a wide range of settings, including the Caribbean and Africa."


What role did reading play, if any? Is it similar to the role it plays with your own children today?

Reading shaped me, just as much as I was shaped by my parents or friendships. It is a crucial glue to the entire education process.  I am fortunate that I was exposed to, and gravitated to many high character heroes, from a wide range of settings, including the Caribbean and Africa.

I love how reading can be an essentially fun activity, yet a person is educating him or herself almost without sometimes knowing it. You read Louis L’Amour and develop a deep sense of physical geography at a subconscious level.  When you read Sam Selvon, you are so captivated by the rich humor that you absorb history, and culture without the boring awareness that kids usually associate with those topics.
My kids love to read; they clearly inherited the genes from my wife and me!  It is largely a fun pursuit, but they have started to exhibit some of the social consciousness that good reading should engender.

Here in the US, my kids have an embarrassment of riches with regards to books.  We have a town library that is well stocked and also allow us to source books from other libraries, if it is not available locally.  They have a great library at school, and an overabundance of books at home.  And they have electronic devices loaded with books.

Reading material is not as commonplace in Jamaica as it is here in the USA.  When I was growing up we had no libraries in most of the communities, and the little money we had was usually dedicated to food and clothing.  It was a joyous day when the government rolled out a book mobile that would visit our community and open its doors to our eager eyes and hands. It became a ritual for us to count down the time to its arrival, when we could explore afresh and get new books. Yet the book mobile did not last because of budgetary constraints.

Now when I visit my hometown, and many other communities it feels like many areas of Jamaica are in a time warp.  The lack that I experienced nearly 40 years ago is still a reality.  Within that context it is difficult for kids to advance out of their current situation. 

Read more of Easton's story

 

It always seems impossible until it's done - Nelson Mandela

Clifton Primary Project gets underway

Reflecting on this quote from Mr. Mandela, I can’t help but smile and feel a sense of pride and excitement about how far we’ve come in a short time.  A year ago, it might have seemed beyond our wildest dreams to help build a lending library in western Jamaica.  Yet, here we are – getting set to launch renovations to create a brand-new library at Clifton Primary School (CPS).

Clifton is a rural elementary school in Hanover, Jamaica serving children from up to six nearby communities.  CPS does not have a school library; likewise, many of its neighboring communities are without a public library. Therefore, this library will benefit both students and their families by enabling children to borrow books to read at home with or to their parents and siblings.  With the adult illiteracy rate in Jamaica near 20%, the impact of this library cannot be underestimated. 

Equally important, the new library space will allow for quiet, individualized reading time, as well as group readings led by a teacher. Moreover, because each classroom at Clifton contains two grade levels, the library will provide teachers with a new option for keeping one grade engaged in library activities while the other receives age-appropriate curriculum instruction.

Renovations are slated to begin in January, and finish by late spring.  Our hope is a complete renovation of the space, which currently is unused due to poor lighting, unfinished flooring, and comfortable seating for the kids. Our work will be completed in three phases:  Phase 1 will target structural needs such as flooring, lighting, ventilation, and shelving.  Phase 2 will address technology needs – presently, CPS has no computers. The final phase will involve implementation of basic lending library procedures and a shipment of new books! 

We are thrilled to share this update with you and appreciate your interest in our journey to create readers…for life.

 

 


To donate a book  via our virtual book drive, click the link or shop in our bookstore on Facebook 

Cash donations of any amount are greatly appreciated!


Reading Owls International (ROI) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to increase the literacy levels of children in Jamaica by building or supplementing existing libraries in disadvantaged communities. 

For more information, please visit our website at www.readingowlsinternational.org

 
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