March 2011 Volume 8

A Jamaican Mother’s Dream Comes True

Warren McCalla
Text Size
  • -
  • +
  • reset

I left Portland for Kingston with my mother's teaching that education was to be the focus at this stage of my life. I was from a humble background, my mother worked for Eastern Banana Company and she saw education as the path to a better life for her son, a path that had eluded her – this was her dream.

I had just completed CSEC examinations at Titchfield High School but I didn't do as well as I thought that I could and should have and I felt that a change of environment would do me good. So here I was on my way to "town". As I did not know my way around Kingston, I had to be guided by my brother who mapped out the route for the day for me. Luckily, it was the days when you only had to pay one fare for all bus rides between 8 am and 1 pm.

I took a bus to Meadowbrook High School first but got the run around so I was directed to Calabar High School. There I was told to come back another day. Still feeling the need to explore my options, Based on my brother's instructions, I then took a bus to Cross Roads and walked down to Wolmer's High School where I was told that if I was willing to be a part of the Schools Challenge quiz team, then a spot was available for me – they knew that I had represented Titchfield in this competition.

I got new instructions to go to St. George's College. When I got there, however, no one was there who could discuss the matter with me. I called my brother to give him the bad news but he said that there was another school on North Street just down the road so I should go there also. So, on I went. As soon as I stepped in the office there was something that caught my eyes more than anywhere else. I saw the words: "When God is at the centre, all things fall in place." I met with Ms. Barnaby and Mr. Johnson. Their manner was different from every other school that I had been to. They were very receptive. We spoke briefly and they said that they would call me to tell me their decision.

I left KC to return to St. George's to see if the principal had come in as yet. Before I could get to George's, however, I got a call from Ms. Barnaby who said that they would accept me in KC – just like that, no interview; they just decided to give this country boy a chance. I will never forget them for this. Of course, another important factor that led me to KC was that their fees were the lowest. Then, the fees were $8000 with an optional $4000 for the PTA. About a week later, I returned from Portland and Mr. Johnson told me what he expected of me – again no interview – just a decision to give me a chance.

I started KC the following Wednesday and it has all been like a fairy tale life since then. What a blessing it was to have been given this opportunity. I started Sixth form in KC with the expectation that I would be the one country youth amongst a bag a town man. How wrong was I! I found that to the KC students it doesn't matter where you come from-once you wear the purple tie you become a part of a unified group. Everywhere one went, everybody went; if one person going to Pearl, everyone a go.

The school is really a different place. I remember after completing lower six and doing only Chemistry and Physics, I decided to try Biology in upper six. When I asked the Bio teacher close to the end of the first term in upper six, she said that she would ask the students in her class. She asked the class and they voted on it and that was how I got to do Biology.

The students then got books from their friends for me…in fact; there was togetherness among the KC students that I have never seen before. Another example of this togetherness was what I saw the mathematics students doing. Each mathematics student would go home and try a very difficult problem, called a "bomb" problem. The next day, about 20 minutes before class, they would come together and a student would place the "bomb" question on the board. One by one, students would go up until it was solved or after no one was able the person who wrote the question would go up and solve it. This happened every day before math class and proved to be very helpful to the students.

After graduating from KC, I and three of my friends went to UWI. After completing the first year, we heard about medical scholarships being offered to study in Cuba. We knew of old boys who had benefitted from these scholarships and all four of us decided to try. Eventually we all got a scholarship with mine coming through the PNP YO of which I was a member.

I reached Cuba on November 10 2006. This was one of the most shocking experiences of my life – the airport was truly a beautiful structure, we saw nice cars but this was my first time seeing the magic school bus – it came to pick us up with a truck to throw our bags in. When we reached ELAM in Havana we were offered a ham sandwich and a caffeine-based soft drink like Pepsi.

As a Seventh Day Adventist, I do not consume either of these and this became one of my early challenges - dealing with the food. Anyway after a few weeks I adjusted to the food. In ELAM we were among a few English speaking students. ELAM by the way is one of the biggest medical facilities in this part of the world.

We went through an intensive 12-week programme studying Spanish. After this we went into a pre-med programme with the Latin American students from Mexico down to Chile – when we finished we were told that the Jamaicans were the best group ever seen in their 10 years of existence. They were really impressed with our performance in the four months of premed.

We then went down to Santiago in 2007 with other students from Cuba, Haiti, Guinea and Mali. Here again the Jamaicans stood out. Two of us from KC are on the Titulo de Oro or the first class honors list and the other two are almost there (and will soon be there). While we have never separated ourselves from the rest of the students, Jamaican and otherwise, we who have been together from sixth form in KC have become very good friends and our aim is to come back to Jamaica and, if possible, work together. We especially want to play an active role in getting KC students who are unable to afford tertiary

Robert Kelly, a KC old boy from the New York chapter has never left me out. He has always assisted me financially. The reality is that I am not one of those well-off students and through Mr. Basil Waite, I approached Mr. Kelly for help and he has always helped me out financially when I am back in Jamaica. In particular he has helped with purchasing tickets back to Cuba and in buying textbooks from UWI bookstore.

We get a stipend from both the Cuban and Jamaican government. The Jamaican government's is, as expected, much more than that from Cuba as the Cuban government also provides accommodation, food and tuition. Generally speaking, a student can live on the funds provided from the stipends. Students, however, vary in their dispositions. There is one student who is from a Boys' home but who the previous ambassador to Jamaica, Gisela Garcia, and her husband, Jorge Crespo were determined to help. He is a model when it comes to economizing. He is able to do everything from his stipends only – he comes to Jamaica and purchases his tickets back to Cuba and really gets no financial assistance from anyone. There are some students who function at the other extreme. They use the money to spend week-ends at hotels and have a good time including US$12 breakfasts; some buy clothes, and some use the money to purchase cigarettes as they smoke heavily. And there are others who fall in the middle. My feeling is that one would need to assess each case individually to determine whether or not the stipends provided are adequate.

The quality of teaching especially in our clinical years is excellent. The beauty of the Cuban system is that you can be an understudy to a doctor so long as your GPA is at the required level. Also, you have full access to the hospital because the patients know that they are part of the teaching process. You simply go to the hospital, show your ID and that is it. You have access to any patient. Of course, ultimately, how well you do is up to you. You are given the opportunities here, at the expense of the Cuban government, without having to borrow student loans and worry about the repayment later, with a small student –teacher ratio; you have to play your part to excel.

Evaluations are held every week, sometimes twice per week, some evaluations are oral some are written. For example, on Monday you may have a conference, then an evaluation on Wednesday and maybe even another evaluation on Thursday.

Socially, it was never hard to blend in the Cuban culture – Cubans are very friendly people. Education is a fundamental right to all and the only bridge that creates a natural change of class. In Jamaica, it is outside the reach of the average person whose parents work on a small plot of land in say St. Thomas or Westmoreland. Only a very small number can break the cycle of poverty in a situation like this. In Cuba, however, the situation is different. Cuba shows to the world the path that can and should be taken – education should be available to all, even up to the tertiary level. It is a privilege to me to have been offered this chance to both make something of my life and on this basis to help others later on. Other countries need to follow the example of Cuba in this regard. Cuba has more doctors than all the other Caribbean islands combined! Cuba's internationalism is a good approach because if your neighbor is comfortable then you don't need to live in fear.

For those of us who have benefitted from Cuba's internationalism, the responsibility is clear: "To whom much is given much is expected" and that is my disappointment with some of our Cuban graduates, some have come home and have forgotten their purpose. If I am a doctor and a person comes in my office but is unable to pay, it is my duty to treat him to the best of my ability. In Cuba now are students who would find it hard to deal with those who cannot afford health care…there are also those who should not be there in the first place because they do not have the requisite skills – they have taken the place from someone who could have benefitted – this does not make sense.

My mother dreamt of me ending the cycle of poverty which afflicted our family through education. I deeply want to thank Cuba for making the dream of this poor country woman come true. I want to thank KC, especially Ms. Barnaby and Mr. Johnson, for giving me a chance, and the 6th form KC students who embraced me as one of them.

Top of Page