One woman’s kindness makes a huge difference for children
[May 15, 2021: Josh Shavit]
Melissa Powell has been making a huge difference in her community of Waterhouse, St Andrew. Powell has offered up her yard as a makeshift homework centre, creating a positive and necessary facility for children in her community to learn despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the last 13 years, the mother of three has opened up her home to students of all ages as a homework centre where they can go to have a focused environment to complete their homework or other school assignments.
“I started my homework centre to help the children in my community, especially the ones who may not have the help at home, whether their parents were busy with work, or weren’t able to give the guidance on certain subjects,” she said.
Not having formal training was a hurdle, but nothing Powell wasn’t willing or able to overcome in the name of helping the children. Over the years, she has seen the need and has risen to the occasion, challenging herself with learning concepts online to challenge and enrich the students she assists. “Growing up, I didn’t have people around me to guide me, ask me how school was, ask about what I was learning and if I understood. I want every child to have that opportunity,” she said.
She believes that a solid education forms the foundation for children’s futures and the future of Jamaica as a nation. This kind of support is even more necessary now due to the struggles faced during the pandemic.”Before the COVID-19 pandemic, things were much simpler. We didn’t have to worry about social distancing and the number of persons in a space. We could actually fit about 30 students easily into the setting where all could be learning at the same time. Now the number of students has to be limited, and I have to manage the schedule differently so that I keep everyone safe,” she said.
The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges and needs of the students that Powell works with. “Generally speaking, our needs span everywhere, from education supplies and resources for the students to food and toiletries, as I run a full-on programme here. With COVID-19, that brings the added stress and worry about safety and having to ensure we have masks and proper sanitisation materials.”
The impact the pandemic has had on education has affected both students and teachers in more ways than one. “Face-to-face teaching where the lessons were more direct, it is no more. The teachers have been faced with the challenging task of keeping students engaged and enforcing rules and discipline via a virtual space. It is very challenging. I’m proud of my students, though. We’ve been finding ways to adapt, with some students coming in person and others getting help on the online platforms,” Powell said.
To support Powell and her students, and in line with their mandate of supporting community and youth development across the nation, the NCB Foundation team gifted her and her students with some much-needed resources for their homework centre - a brand new laptop, printer, ink and paper, as well as books and other supplies for each student.
Grateful for the resources, Powell shared a few words of wisdom. “Never give up hope. Everything has to run its course. Life is what you make it, and life is something that you live, not something you fight. And to all the students out there, education is always going to be the key so that later when you come upon the locks in various areas of society, you will have the key to unlock whatever door you’re faced with. There will be nothing that can stand in your way,” she said.
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