Lorna Golding: Caring for the nation's children

Published: Saturday | September 5, 2009
Nashauna Drummond, Lifestyle Coordinator
Jamaica Gleaner

Courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner

She strolls purposefully into the lobby of Jamaica House wearing a teacher's stern expression. But this quickly softens and eventually melts completely as she greets little Pheandra McCalla as if they were old friends. Ushering us into her small, modest office, her face comes alive, her eyes sparkle and a permanent smile captivates her lips as she explains how they met.

It seems few have seen Lorna Golding, wife of Prime Minister Bruce Golding, like this. Our chat was not to be about her husband or politics, it was all about her and what she loves to do. It is clear she loves children. After raising three of her own - Steven, Sherine and Ann Merita - she turned her full attention to the nation's children.

"That's what I had in mind when I became the prime minister's wife. My role had to expand from my children to the nation's children. I had a sincere passion to make a difference."

Ten-year-old Pheandra is one such child. Earlier this year, Mrs Golding received a letter from little Pheandra, who attends Portsmouth Primary in Portmore, explaining how sick her mother was. She said she wished her mother could come to school and see her teacher, but she was afraid of what the children might do or say.

"Who could ignore a letter like this?" Mrs Golding asked, holding up an envelope addressed in a child's handwriting. Written in pencil, it still had lines drawn under the words to make sure they were written straight. A picture of a heart was drawn on the right-hand corner by the stamp, with a star below the return address.

The sincere, innocent words of the letter pulled at Mrs Golding's heart strings and she did what she could to help, getting Dr Trevor McCartney of the University Hospital of the West Indies involved in the case. Unfortunately, Pheandra's mother never recovered and recently passed away. Mrs Golding attended the funeral to give Pheandra her support.

Early childhood

Mrs Golding knew she wanted to focus on early childhood. "I spent a lot of time with my children, guiding and watching them grow into responsible citizens and that's where it starts." She pointed out that the zero to three-year-old age group were the formative years.

Initially, she thought her focus would be on a school-feeding programme. But as she met with early childhood practitioners, she saw that there were other factors that had to be considered, not least of which were the parents. "Education does not go without health. Breastfeeding makes them better and brighter. If you tell any mother to breastfeed her children because they will be brighter, which mother wouldn't want a bright child?"

Right Start ... Right Way ... Right Now, is the thought behind Jamaica Early Childhood Development Foundation, which Mrs Golding launched in 2008.

"When I thought about it and told my husband, the first thing he said was, 'Where are you going to get the money?" she recalled.

"I told him, 'I'm accustomed to making money.' And that's how the Evening of Classics came about."

After speaking with the practitioners to get a scope of what was needed and where she would start, she began visiting schools across the island. She has so far travelled to St Thomas, Manchester, St Catherine and Trelawny.

Mrs Golding is the patron of Jamaica House Primary School, where she has held a number of treats, and also Hope Valley Experimental School, with which she has been extremely impressed. She said that she was very concerned with challenged children, especially those who were falling through the cracks as most of the schools she visited did not have the infrastructure (such as ramps) to facilitate physically challenged students.

Pilot coming

As she continues pursuing her goal towards the further development of early childhood education, Mrs Golding is set to launch the pilot of the nutritional component of her foundation at the Denham Town Basic School. When those students return to school to start a new year, they will be greeted by a library and new computer lab.

"Children must have fun and a sense of humour," she said with a twinkle in her eye as memories of her childhood flashed across her mind.

"I enjoyed growing up," she reminisced. "I used to love to dance, and as a child, I loved to dance the maypole and quadrille. This is how girls need to grow up."

To further expose children to our culture, she recently made a monetary donation to the Louise Bennett Coverley Primary School to help develop the use of culture as a tool in stimulating children.

She said that children today were more open to things going on around them, and that as adults, it was imperative that they be guided by them.

"Children are more open to everything now; you can't lock them up. Tell them about real and practical things they are going to face. We can't hide them, so we must guide them."


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