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Character Education

Working with the Thursday Group in Jamaica


On my last full day in Jamaica, I was chatting with a lady seated on the bus. We struck up a conversation as I stood over her, hanging onto the overhead strap. She asked how we were enjoying our stay and was curious to know if we’d gotten to Negril and Montego Bay to enjoy the beaches there. She was dismayed to learn that we’d only been to a beach close to Kingston and would miss some of the typical tourist spots. Then I explained that we really weren’t in Jamaica for a holiday but to teach character education. That’s when she said, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to Jamaica!”

Like everywhere else in the world, modern Jamaica is dealing with the breakdown of traditional families and all the social problems that ensue from that. Recent newspaper headlines in Kingston were about the Prime Minister’s efforts to crack down on crime.

Our UPF team of character educators had planned to come to Jamaica to help staff a UPF camp entitled “Fighting HIV/AIDS Through Character Building.” That camp will served forty to sixty young people from August 4 to 8, 2008, at the Half Way Tree Elementary School. But before that camp could begin we found ourselves working at a newly-formed summer day camp—Sir Howard Cooke’s Thursday Group Character Development Centre in Nannyville, a neighborhood of Kingston. The Thursday Group has several Ambassadors for Peace among its members, and UPF’s representative in Jamaica, Mr. Dennis Salmon, has been a member of the group since 2004. The Chairman of the Thursday Group, Rev. Martin Spade, is an Ambassador for Peace.

On August 1, 1991 Sir Howard Cooke was appointed to the position of Governor-General for Jamaica by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Although this is largely a ceremonial position since Jamaica is no longer a colony of Great Britain, Sir Howard used his position to gather respected members of the community to meet with him every Thursday from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. This group of clergy of diverse faiths, professionals, and business men and women continued to meet even after Sir Howard’s retirement in 2006.

The Thursday Group members are Jamaican patriots who want to see their country realize its true potential. The members found that, whatever the topic of discussion, the root of society’s evils stem from a lack of good character. Eventually some became weary of talking and took action. That’s how the summer day camp came about. Volunteers from the Thursday Group had been staffing an after-school tutoring and homework program. The building they are using is being renovated through grant money, and the camp was funded through grants from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF). Once the renovations are complete they will have office space, a library, and meeting rooms in addition to the classrooms and dance studio already in use.

Our team of four split into two smaller teams to work in the two classrooms that were available at the start of camp on July 14. Justin Noll of New York and Alice Roschuni of Maryland worked with the youngest group of children ages six to ten. Chifuku (Chief) Kuwahara from Boston and I were in a classroom of around thirty students ages eleven to sixteen. We assisted the teachers for the academic class periods in the beginning of the day, and afterwards it was our turn to hold the character development classes.

Using the Discovering the Real Me curriculum, we told stories and did our best to get students thinking about how to make good choices in their lives. Using a chapter from Book 7, “Finding Your Way Home” Chief and I helped students become more familiar with allowing their consciences to serve as a guide and compass when life gets confusing and pressure comes from others to stray from the best path to reach the destination of a happy, successful life.

One of Chief’s favorite stories is from Book 12, Chapter 3, “Me and My Shadow.” There is a tale told by a Native American grandfather to his grandson about the two wolves at war within him. When the boy asks which wolf wins, the grandfather replies, “The one that I feed.” What followed then was a discussion about how to feed the good wolf and starve the bad one inside each of us.

It’s impossible to say how much lasting impact we will have in the lives of these children, but this community is extremely grateful to the Universal Peace Federation. We were thanked repeatedly by the camp director, Mr. Ivan Coore, and the Thursday Group Project Manager, Dr. Sitaram Poddar, for coming and sharing our lessons with children and adults alike. Sir Howard Cooke himself visited the camp on July 22 and expressed his gratitude to each person on our team.

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