Despite the 13-degree chill in Jamaica, Queens at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, January 31, just over 25 members of the Union of Jamaican Alumni Associations (USA) Inc. (UJAA) gathered at Econo-Caribe Shipping warehouse to pack almost 300 laptops and tablets headed to schools in Jamaica.
Decked out in triple layers of garments with their UJAA masks and jackets, members sorted and labeled boxes of devices, placing them on a pallet to be shipped to Kingston. Throughout the 2020 pandemic year, UJAA and the member alumni associations have, with remarkable perseverance, energy and foresight, not simply moved forward to meet the mandates of their charter but have designed and collaborated in projects to support their school communities in Jamaica.
Their LAPTOPnTABLET PROGRAM is only the latest program to pay forward in support of the challenges that COVID-19 thrust upon teaching and learning remotely. As early as in July, the UJAA Board began looking at ways to assist schools and students with devices to help them with remote learning. Then the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information announced their plan to procure units through their ELeaning division. That plan had several changes in direction and the bottom line was that schools still would not have the units that were needed.
UJAA began thinking of a way to help the schools. It had to be aligned with the reality of the pandemic in the education space, in Jamaica and in the Diaspora. It had to be a plan of substance with the impact of the 61-member umbrella organization.
Discussions and negotiations began with the leading Computer Technology providers as well as conversations with member alumni association presidents who were having their own conversations with their principals. With a commitment from several members and negotiations with Dell and Best Buy, the first order was placed, a benefit agreement was made with members, and the LAPTOPnTABLET PROGRAM was in place.
Saturday’s shipment was the first of more to come. UJAA now sees a revised global vision of teaching and learning. President Lesleyann Samuel sums it up, “The lessons learned during 2020 have changed our lives as we pivot and adapt.”