Westmoreland has been making steady strides in the area of culture, chalking up numerous awards, especially at the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) Festival of the Performing Arts level and rated fifth among the parishes.
The force behind this milestone achievement is Karen Knott Banhan, a daughter of the soil of Westmoreland. A teacher by profession, she is creative, innovative, multi-talented and is loved and respected by youths, as well as older members of her community, and the wider parish.
Born to Sydney Knott and Shirley Gray on April 30, 1970, she was raised by her grandmother, a strong disciplinarian who instilled much of the morals and values that now guide her decisions.
She has been a teacher for over 25 years, and has spent the last 15 years at the Little London Primary School, her alma mater. She was successful in her secondary education at the Little London Secondary School, now Little London High, moving on to Rusea’s High School, where she gained a scholarship in netball in 1985. She also attended the Passley Gardens Teachers’ College, where she obtained professional training in primary education.
Throughout her school life, Mrs. Knott Banhan has been an active participant in the extra curricular activities of institutions she attended.
In July of 2003, she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Guidance and Counselling from the Institute of Theological and Leadership Development, now the International University of the Caribbean (IUC). She later completed her Masters Programme in Counseling Psychology at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology, graduating in the top of her class.
Mrs. Knott Banhan has been working with children from as early as 15 years old at her church, but it was not until she received an invitation from then cultural organizer for Westmoreland, Marjorie Leyden Vernon, that the relationship she now shares with the JCDC was conceptualized and flourished into 15 years and counting.
She writes poetry mainly for children, and has trained scores of students at the parish, regional and national levels in the JCDC’s Festival of the Performing Arts Competitions. She always abides by the mottos ‘no pain, no gain’ and ‘only the best is good enough’, and currently has over 300 poems in her collection.
Field Services Director at the JCDC, Leyden Vernon, spoke glowingly of her, saying she has been associated with Mrs. Knott Banhan for over eight years, and has watched her “grow and develop” in culture and the arts, making outstanding contributions to Westmoreland’s input.
She has done this through the parish cultural committee, and as a trainer on programmes in the parish, as well as a participant in the annual Performing Arts Festival, she added.
“She has entered a number of children from the Little London Primary School, and across the communities in festival competitions, bringing in a number of top awards and outstanding gold medalists who have gone on to the national finals in Kingston,” she told JIS News.
She credited her with outstanding entries in speech, and recalled that, up to this year, at the ‘Mello Go Roun’ she had a group on the show.
“She has had a tremendous impact on cultural activities in the parish of Westmoreland and, in particular, the Little London community, inclusive of the school and the church. She was instrumental in the development of the Miss Westmoreland Festival Princess, which has been getting bigger and stronger now in its ninth year. Mrs. Knott Banhan has truly been a success story for the parish of Westmoreland, and I really want to congratulate her and thank her for the contributions she continues to make to cultural development and its preservation in the parish”, Mrs. Leyden Vernon told JIS News.
Mrs. Knott Banhan’s involvement in and love for cultural activities were spurred by her admiration of cultural icons Louise Bennett-Coverley and Dr. Norma Coley Agard.
Her performances and achievements in the JCDC competitions did not go unnoticed, and she was recruited and given professional training in drama by Dr. Coley Agard, then mandated to serve as National Presenter in Drama with the Ministry of Education.
Mrs. Knott Banhan has conducted numerous workshops with primary school teachers, as part of the Ministry’s objectives to implement the new Revised Curriculum in 2003.
“Dr. Coley Agard saw something in me from those early years and, because I was not as confident in myself, she actually forced me to get more integrally involved in the activities in the JCDC, and I want to thank her for this,” she acknowledged.
She has served in the mentorship programme at the Jamaica Youth for Christ, and was student council secretary at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (2006-2008). She currently works as part-time lecturer at the Montego Bay Community College’s Westmoreland campus.
At the recent National Heroes Day Heritage Salute and Awards Ceremony in Savanna-La-Mar, the Westmoreland Heritage Committee honoured her for outstanding and meritorious contributions to the development of culture in the parish. She was among 10 persons selected for the parish’s highest honour, who were presented with accolades and plaques by the Mayor of Savanna-La-Mar, Councillor Bertel Moore, and Custos of Westmoreland, Hon. Owen Sinclair.
Her other achievements and awards include : most outstanding teacher in the region in the Performing Arts (Speech and Drama), outstanding contribution to Education, five National awards in Festival of the Performing Arts (2005-2006), 13 National and three Regional awards in Festival of the Performing Arts (2006-2007), National awards for best class 2 Tutor in Festival of the Performing Arts (2006-2007) and six National awards in JCDC (2006-2007).
Mrs. Knott Banhan, a God-fearing Christian woman, is actively involved in her church, where she currently serves as Sunday School Teacher, praise and worship Minister, choir member and Youth Board member. She hopes to complete her novel, an anthology of poems, and CD of poetry geared towards Christian Ministry.
“You can’t divorce yourself from your passion, as it is something that burns within you and propels you to serve. This passion eventually develops and attracts recognition, as I believe that [some persons are born to serve, others are thrust into service, while some are not even sure how they became servants]. I believe that my gift came from the Lord and I depend on Him to keep me equipped and on the cutting edge,” Mrs. Knott Banhan told JIS News.