Celebrate Jamaica: Deika Morrison and Crayons Count
A chance conversation that Deika Morrison was involved in led to the realization that too many young children in Jamaica have little or no access to the learning materials needed for their development. Pushed by the need to do something, Deika drew on the experiences she had working on the Guinness World Record-setting book donation drive (657,061 books collected and donated in 7 days) and quickly put together Crayons Count. Deika began planning in November 2011, using the usual informal get together of Jamaican Ivy Leaguers that she hosts to get initial support. By February 13, 2012 the initiative to address some of the early childhood needs in Jamaica was underway with the support of National Bakery and the Jamaica Gleaner. Though she moved quickly, Deika took care to organize a well-thought out and comprehensive initiative. From coming up with an awareness-raising name – a name that alludes both to the effort to collect a specific number of crayons and other early childhood development tools and to the key role that crayons and other “child-like” things play in the early development of a child – to incorporating recycling into the program, Deika and her team are ensuring that that deficiencies faced by too many of Jamaica’s young children are addressed.
Working on something like Crayons Count is not new to Deika. She had already founded Do Good Jamaica, the objective of which is to “celebrate and encourage activity by civil society organizations [in Jamaicaby acting as] a vehicle for sharing information among organizations and between organizations and their stakeholders.” Crayons Count takes Do Good’s work a bit further by actually running a project to collect and direct the distribution of crayons, blocks, and other items to basic schools. And, beyond just collecting crayons to meet the needs of nearly 2,700 schools across Jamaica, Crayons Count is committed to addressing other early childhood needs such as teacher training. The comprehensive, long-term approach is likely born of Deika’s belief that “education is the most important thing, [because it] gives a child a chance, a future.” At the upcoming Early Childhood Expo (June 22 – 23, 2012) Crayons Count will be able to interact with teachers and get them to use the items in the learning kits. Monthly awareness-building events are also planned to ensure that Jamaicans get the message about the needs of our children. On March 17 Do Good Jamaica and the Book Industry Association of Jamaica will be in Emancipation Park at the Do Good Jamaica/Kingston Book Festival Book Fair: book readings and launches, face painting and other free activities for children, the ability to meet authors and illustrators…and an appearance by Sesame Street Walk Around Characters in conjunction with Beaches (the latter makes me jealous, I love Sesame Street!). Of course, bring your old crayons for donation because they will be recycled (did you see the symbols in the Crayons Count logo?) and learn more about Crayons Count.
The Crayons Count model is meant to encourage participation and to make that participation personal. The lessons from the book donation drive that she’d worked on in 2010 guided her. During that project she was amazed at people’s ability to work together and with the personal connection to the project that was forged by making an in kind donation. So, instead of only asking for monetary donations, Crayons Count encourages persons to give something specific to assemble the kits that are distributed to schools across the country. Picking up a package of crayons or a ball from the bookstore or pharmacy and dropping it off at one of the many locations across Jamaica establishes that personal connection. Maybe you’ll be more likely to pick up another item the next time you’re doing your errands or purchasing items for your own child. Items will be assembled into two kinds of learning kits:
- a basic kit (240 Crayons + 10 books (age 6 and under appropriate) + 4 packs paper (coloured and plain) + 4 pairs kids scissors + 4 puppets + 2 sets blocks + 2 balls + 4 sets play-dough); and a
- a complete kit ( the basic kit + 4 sets of puzzles + 4 sets manipulative (items that children can use to support hands on learning. eg. markers, toothpicks, coins) + 4 sets paints + 8 kids paintbrushes + 8 glue-sticks). The handy counters on the Crayons Count site allows donors to see the initiative’s progress and to donate accordingly.
But why crayons and glue and puppets? Why not just books and teacher training? Colouring and using building blocks are activities that many of us take for granted; somehow, we expect that these things are a given for children when they are in school. But that’s not the case. And these simple, fun things have a definite and lasting effect on a child’s development. According to Deika, early childhood development experts note that colouring within the lines is not just about making a pretty picture, it’s also about developing body control and fine motor skills. In early childhood literature building things like puppets and blocks are “manipulatives,” and being able to stack or arrange blocks is one of the skills that paediatricians check for to assess a child’s developmental growth. Using crayons and play dough encourage children to share and to work together and prompt creativity. All of these skills, and others, are important for a child’s development; they build a foundation that sets children in good stead to tackle the increasingly difficult tests and assessments that they will face once they reach primary level education (e.g. GSAT and later CXCs). Many Jamaicans complain about poor GSAT and CXC results, we wonder what’s gone wrong (this author is among the complainers) so it seems to make sense that we begin to address the problems by beginning at the beginning.
Deika is confident that “together we can turn the tide on some of the education problems” facing Jamaican students. Approximately JA$20B is spent each year on remedial education to address deficiencies that develop during the first 8 years of a child’s education. Too many children begin primary school playing catch up. So far, Deika says that she is “very, very encouraged” with the support that Crayons Count has received. Partnerships with National Bakery and the Jamaica Gleaner ensure that the collection drive happens simultaneously with activities that engage children and their families and raise awareness in the general population. Each Saturday the Jamaica Gleaner prints a National Bakery-sponsored page of activities for children. The content is created by Jack Mandora and is based on the curriculum provided by the Early Childhood Commission (another partner, and an important one). Crayons Count is also supported by various local foundations as well as international organizations, among them the go-to-company for crayons Crayola (through Sangsters Bookstores Jamaica). Crayons Count is also conducting a school tour featuring Miss Jamaica World 2011 Danielle Crosskill and her fellow 2011 contestant Brittany Singh. Ms. Singh and Ms. Crosskill visit schools across the island to spread the word about Crayons Count. On their visits to the more well-funded schools across the island, the ladies have been touched at the understanding displayed by Jamaica’s youngest citizens, as well as their willingness to donate their own crayons. Their donations will also be recycled and made into crayons that are included in the kits being assembled by Crayons Count. Meanwhile children who benefit from donations are, understandably, excited and most importantly engaged. Parents are also enthusiastic about the work that Crayons Count is beginning; families are happy to purchase more than one Saturday Gleaner to allow their children to use the Crayons Count Activity Pages.
“I know that together we can shape a generation. I know that, ” Deika says. I believe her. And you don’t have to be in Jamaica (or Jamaican, for that matter) to join together. MailPac Express, one of Crayons Count’s partners, has donated an address and space in Florida to serve as a collection and consolidation point for items: 21011 Johnson Street, Unit 129, Pembroke Pines, FL 33029 (but hurry, expires March 23!). [Editor’s Note – April 29, 2012: The Florida mailing address is still valid.] Consolidation (here Food For The Poor is helping too) is important for importation into Jamaica – items bundled together for this project are not dutiable whereas individual packages are. Crayons Count has also set up an Amazon Registry and Wish List that mirror the counters on the main website. Using either you can easily add an item or two to your Amazon Shopping Cart and it will be shipped directly to the Florida address. Of course, you may also set up a collection drive and then ship everything to Florida; MailPac will arrange for shipment to Jamaica. If you’re doing this kind of collection drive or using the Wish List, be sure to email Deika at Deika[at]dogoodjamaica.org to let her know; purchase from the Registry automatically sends her an email.
Talking to Deika I sensed her passion and commitment to Crayons Count and to improving early childhood education in Jamaica. I am glad for this, grateful. And that it’s a collaborative effort is distinctly heartening. Even now I still take the time to colour. I fondly remember the art and craft classes at St. Andrew Prep and the joy of seeing my little sister’s and nephews’ small, chubby hands grasp a crayon for the first time and then drag it across paper. I love this idea: collecting crayons, blocks, glue, balls, books…things a child should have…it is so simple but their impact is deceptively profound and long lasting. So, how about we do some good for Jamaica and help them collect?
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[Editor’s Note – April 29, 2012: The Florida mailing address is still valid.]