Christel House giving hope to poor children
Providing free education and free food, Christel House Jamaica is hoping to make a difference in the lives of children in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
Officially launched in December 2020, the organisation is the Jamaica chapter of Christel House International, a non-profit entity that cares for impoverished children. CEO of the local chapter Sally Porteous told THE STAR that there are currently 242 students, between the ages of five and nine, who benefit from their services. Any child under 18 who is in need is welcome.
"Our children come from all those little shacks by the side of the road that most people drive past and say to themselves 'I'm happy that I don't live there'," she said. "Our children come from the most impoverished areas of the Spanish Town community and we endeavour to try to not only educate them, but we transport them to and from the school every day and we give them breakfast, lunch and then afternoon snacks to take home for their supper. So everything is provided, their uniforms, their tablets, their books, their socks, their shoes."
The organisation has a sick bay with a resident nurse and the children are also able to access other areas of healthcare, including visits to the dentist.
"What we are trying to achieve is not only to educate these children but also to make them feel loved and for them to feel secure. So when they come off the bus and they walk into Christel House, they must know that this is a place where they are going to be cared for," she said. There are 25 teachers, who Porteous says are sourced through various media.
"Sometimes we advertise in the newspapers. We ask the Ministry of Education and we also go through the independent schools' registry," she said.
Though the majority of their funding comes from the headquarters in Indianapolis in the US, Porteous says she is hoping to start raising funds in Jamaica.
"[We are seeking] some financial assistance to assist us with the cost of transportation and food and the cost of uniforms and so forth. Christel House International has paid for the building and they will continue to assist in the payments until Jamaica is able to sustain itself in those areas," she said.
As for the success of the school academically, Porteous says it has been a rough start but she is not giving up on her pupils.
"A lot of them were not up to scratch when they came. So we are trying to move along with them without pushing them too hard because it doesn't help you to do that to get them up to where they should be," she said. But Porteous said that progress is being made and gushed that her children are "exceptionally sweet".
"I just love them, they're like my own children. We just watch them growing a little bit and starting to do well and putting their hands up in the classroom and answering questions. When they came in they couldn't even look you in the eye," she said. The plan is to take on 60 new children per year, until they reach 840. Porteous said that it is still a relatively new school and she is eager for the wider public to know them.
"Once they do, we'll get help. We went ahead because there's so much to be done. We did not go for a lot of publicity. We wanted to get it up, we wanted to get it right and we wanted to get it running. But I think that people who hear about us love us," she said.