When the teacher suggested to treat the kids in the garbage dump community school to a day out at the “amusement park,” Richmond's Ayako Turnbull imagined rollercoasters, pirate swings and maybe a carousel or two.
They rented a bus, packed snacks and drinks for the young students, aged four to six, and set off for the big road trip across Kingston, Jamaica from their scant, bare bones Riverton Meadows Early Education Centre, which is partly funded by parents who scrape by on day-to-day labouring jobs and selling scraps recycled from the dump they call home.
As the bus rolled up to the “park,” the kids’ eyes popped, eliciting excited screams of joy at the sight of what Turnbull could only describe as a “regular Canadian school playground.”
“They had actually never seen a playground before,” said Turnbull, co-founder of non-profit Fundamentals for Change Society (FFC), which promotes “positive change in inner-city Jamaican communities through locally driven projects.”
“At one point, one of them was about to come down a slide backwards; they had no idea how to come down a slide!”
Astonished by what she saw, Turnbull, a McMath secondary grad who now splits a part-time job as bar manager at Milltown Bar and Grill on Richmond Island with running FFC, helped raise around $2,800 so that Riverton could have its own “amusement park.”
“We’re going to use local materials and local people to build the playground,” added Turnbull.
Turnbull and two other FFC members, Richmond’s Jeff Kuzik and Ladner’s Meaghan Kyte, who co-founded the charity with Turnbull, are set to travel at their own expense this Nov. 17 to help the Riverton community, one of Kingston’s poorest neighborhoods, where around 5,000 residents live in makeshift homes along the edges of the city landfill.
For a few weeks, the three will use their skills to teach the school’s staff how to use a computer for the students’ benefit, as well as showing them the work FFC, based in Turnbull’s home, is doing back in Richmond.
The three are asking the public to donate medical, dental and school supplies to take with them to Jamaica or financial donations to go towards the school’s lunch program.
As well as teaching early education to more than 120 students every day, the school also feeds them a hot lunch and has created an adjacent health clinic, drop-off nursery and homework centre.
Next month’s trip is nothing new, however, for Turnbull, who’s been making the journey for 14 years.
Even as a young girl, aged seven or eight, she had the urge to help children in need, wondering to herself why she was so fortunate while millions of children around the world suffer in poverty.
“I always felt the need to bridge the gap,” said Turnbull.
When she hit 16, she went online to search for opportunities that would fulfill that desire to help. She found a retired teacher from Toronto, who was taking a bunch of students to help in Jamaica.
“When we went down, the people there were incredible, so welcoming and grateful; that stuck with me and I’ve been going down ever since,” said Turnbull.
Turnbull also has a long-term sustainable strategy. “Education is key to giving these children a chance to be a competitor in the Jamaican workforce,” she said.
“However, unemployment rates in Jamaica are so high — and amplified in poor communities like Riverton — so creating jobs for this marginalized part of the population is crucial.”
Turnbull is developing a social enterprise in which Riverton residents will be given jobs to make “up-cycled” jewellery.
Using reclaimed objects and paper; fashionable pieces of one-of-a-kind art will be made to sell in the Lower Mainland. Profits will be reinvested into the projects of FFC in Riverton.
FFC is looking to take down donations of non-prescription medical and dental supplies, school and art supplies, old cell phones, which use SIM cards, and monetary donations. Contact FFC at email@example.com or go to www.fundamentalsforchange.org for further information.
Donations can be dropped off at Milltown Bar & Grill (in Marpole) at 9191 Bentley St., Richmond.