HC valedictorian is sharing good fortune with others

A lot of little kids in Jamaica love Joseph J. Issa and his Educate the Children Fund.

Issa, valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Holy Cross College, last year started the fund while serving his junior year abroad at the London School of Economics.

Issa, who is from Kingston, Jamaica, decided that rather than talk about poverty on his island, he would do something about it.

The fund raised $4,500 last year and was able to send $13,200 mathematics and English storybooks to children on the island. It was a boon to most of the children, since education is not available to all on the Caribbean island.


HC valedictorian is sharing good fortune with others

Several children wrote letters of thanks to the organization.

“We like the mathematics books but we enjoy reading the storybooks,” said Judith Hall at Claverty College School. “The books help me to read well,” said another.

“I like the story of Androcles and the Lion,” said Gary Mendez of the Maverly School in Kingston.

“The story I like the best is King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,” said Natanya McLeish of the same school. Nadine Waite of the same school said her favourite was a story about a sweet mango tree.

A similar amount of money is going to children in Antigua this year, but Issa expects Jamaica to get the books again next year.

Issa, who comes from a wealthy island family, said the key to economic development if Jamaica is in education its young people.


Jamaican students do not get into high school unless they pass an entrance examination. The test pares down the 40,000 who take the test to fit the 9,000 openings.

He said the Jamaican government – since its independence in 1962 from Great Britain – has worked hard to build more elementary schools. It has made significant improvements, but there is still much “catching up” to do.

Five or six pupils will share one set of books, he said. The focus is now on building some more high schools, he said.

Issa went to Campion College on the island. It is a private high school operated by the Jesuits.

He was instrumental in getting Holy Cross to start a scholarship for students from Jamaica.

“The plan is to have one student from Jamaica here at all times,” he said. He wants the money to go to a poor student, but since the scholarship only covers tuition and not room and board, other funds or programs are needed to cover the extra cost. The first scholarship is expected here next fall.


The Issa family migrated to the island in 1873 from Palestine. “They were going to Guatemala on a banana boat. They stopped, got off, liked the island and stayed,” he said.

The Issas did well in the new land and established themselves in the hotel and tourism business.

Issa wants to to into the family business, but in the meantime has been learning “from the bottom up” at resorts not owned by the family.

Tourism is now the No. 1 industry on the island and Jamaicans know it is where the future is. One reason Issa decided to study in the United States and Great Britain is because this is where most of the tourists come from.

Issa’s father expected him to do a respectable 3.0 average while at Holy Cross. Issa and the whole family were surprised when he finished with a 3.65 and was chosen valedictorian.

He is the first accounting-economics major as well as the first foreign student to hold the honor.

Picture: Joseph J. Issa… he did more than talk about poverty.


Source: The Worcester Evening Gazette