Outstanding performances at the Commonwealth Youth Service Awards - The Sapodilla Learning Centre
A GINA Feature by Michelle Johnson
Guyana Chronicle
January 12, 2003

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THE Sapodilla Learning Centre operating out of Hopetown, West Berbice, has made outstanding contributions to its immediate environment as well as to the lives of the young people involved in the project.

This facility is operated by a husband and wife team and provides a stable learning environment for youths between the ages of 7 to 21 years old.

The initial vision of the couple, Edwin and Jane Joseph, was to operate a library and sports club. The end result was a learning centre.

Edwin is Guyanese by birth and originally from Hopetown. He served in the British Army for 30 years and managed sport programmes for the Milton Keynes County. Jane Joseph is a Guyanese national and a professional teacher. The couple left their home and jobs in Britain to reside in Guyana. Their desire was to help make a difference in the lives of children in Edwin’s hometown. And they have no regrets.

The Sapodilla Learning Centre operates on a 3:30pm to 5:30pm schedule since its facilities are mainly for students willing to attend classes after school.

“I was put under a lot of pressure from the parents of the children who came here, to have full time education for their children. It became a full time school in 1996,” Jane Joseph said.

Robin Balgeet was a successful student of the Sapodilla Learning Centre at A- levels in 2001 in History and Geography.

Youths of the community are free to join the programme. Recruitment is conducted in August.

“ Being in the programme for at least one year, we get to know what type of student they are and then they have a right to a free place at the full time school.”
Mrs. Joseph, the principal of the school, operates all classes with occasional assistance from some older students, while the sport component is handled by her husband who is the Manager. This couple has provided their home and premises for the operation of the project.

“When we first set up, we were looking for ways that we could extend the type of education that children could get and involving them in practical activities where possible.”

Motivated by a desire to help develop the community the couple moved from providing lessons for children in the area, to operating CXC classes. The centre is now a full time school which provides tutelage for more than ten academic subjects as well as training for small business entrepreneurs. According to the Principal they began using car tyres for benches in the classroom.

In the meantime, the sport aspect of the institution was developed to become one of the most well equipped sporting facilities in the country. The kids now have an opportunity to be engaged in boxing, table tennis, cricket, hockey, weightlifting and basketball to name a few.

The immediate focus of the Centre’s management is to erect an indoor facility where the youths may be able to get involved in a number of other activities.

“What we would like to be able to do is to put up a centre where the same students who are using the sports centre to do their own fundraising, can begin to build this centre where they will be able to put on their own dramas and shows for the local public without getting soaked,” said Mrs. Joseph.

The Sapodilla Learning Centre recently won the Pan-Commonwealth Award for 2002 which is an annual event by the Commonwealth Youth Programme.

“We never expected that we were that good to be singled out. We just know that we work very hard and we are just amazed and overwhelmed at it all,” she said, recounting that the parents also worked hard to make their success a reality.

They were the winners of the Regional Award in 2001 and received 1000 pounds sterling along with medals. The Sapodilla Learning Centre has also participated in the President's Youth Award: Republic of Guyana (PYARG) programme in 2001.

According to the Programme Manager, it was through the support from the management of the PYARG and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport that they were encouraged to enter the competition of the CYP awards.

The initial vision of the Sapodilla Learning Centre programme was to provide opportunities where the students could garner fundraising skills. In the mini company the students manage their own affairs.

“In order to teach business studies without actually doing the business syllabus, we set up a mini business project where the children could be learning business skills through doing it so the “summer splash” mini company was formed and out of that the farm and the agricultural sector grew,” Jane said of the technical aspect of her classes.

This "mini company" was named "Summer Splash" after the first funds raised from food sales to families around the area, were used to invest in the new project. This learning centre is supported by a very active Parent Teachers' Association (PTA) which is an unusual feature for programmes of this nature.

The Centre extended its scope to include farming with the intention of making it a profit making, venture where the children may themselves become actively involved in the management of their own affairs. At the end of each year, the students are required to hand over the finance to the incoming batch.

Finance from the fundraising events are utilised to repair equipment at the centre. The Josephs are not employed by anyone nor are they given any finance for the job they have done.

“We don’t receive any funding. The school is run on a shoestring because people don’t pay any fees to come here. Occasionally we have had help,” the principal explained.

The students manage their own resources, balance the books and conduct meetings relating to the business of the enterprise. Both the principal and the manager are there, however, to give guidance to the teams.

“I am very proud of the fact that we have just had two of our ex-students commissioned as officers in the GDF. We have got lots of our students who have gone on to teaching in the State system, gone on to UG,” Mrs Joseph happily recounted.

There are also reports of ex-students setting up their own businesses after completing their tenure at the Sapodilla Learning Centre as well as being granted scholarships to go to Cuba to study agriculture.

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