News from U.K. Gleaner Educating Jamaica

Joseph Issa’s children fund aids schools back home

Dotted around the world right now, in places like the United States and Great Britain, are the young people who will eventually inherit Jamaica.

News from U.K. Gleaner Educating Jamaica There’s more than a handful of them, mostly from Jamaica’s richer and more powerful families. They are bust at colleges and universities acquiring the skills that will enable them to literally step into their father’s shoes when they re-descend on the Caribbean in say, three, four, years time. It’s a precise plan.

One of them is Joseph Issa. He strikes one at first as a shy person, he speaks however of an arrogant side to his nature he is anxious to suppress. He has an enviable string of academic and non-academic successes that would look good on any CV; an acute grasp of world politics, boundless energy to fuel his many ideas; large, very round, very soft dark eyes; a playful, boyish grin and a plan that’s as precise as you could wish.

Joey is coming up on the end of his year at the London School of Economics (LSE) – the year was a compulsory part of his four year sojourn at the Holy Cross College, just outside Boston in the United States. His father, leading hotelier and Senator John Issa is financing all his education and there is a career awaiting him back home. All he has to do is enjoy London and everything that goes with it – the parties, the people, the socialising, the architecture, the recent Wimbledon – while doing the family proud of course!

“Yes, I think I am quite lucky,” admits this privileged child (Joey’s just 21) – over melting ice cream in a cool, downstairs, Convent Garden ice cream parlour.

His maternal grandfather arrived in Jamaica from Jordon with next to nothing. Business instinct soon turned that around however and today, the Issa family practically controls the island’s hotel industry. But like his father, Joey believe it is not enough to just be lucky; giving something of yourself, back to your country is of utmost importance.

“People should give some of their time to their country,” says Joey, “we should not be self-centred.”


So just how is Joey doing that; how is he repaying the country that helped give him a head start in life? The Educate the Children Fund is the Issa Junior idea, originating at the start of the year and nurtured to fruition this summer with the enthusiastic aid of fellow LSE students.

One of Joey’s primal concerns is the state of Jamaica’s education system and the Educate the Children Fund targets those problems directly.

“Jamaica has a good school system but it doesn’t go far enough. There aren’t enough CXC places for the amount of children taking the exam. We have had to build twice the number of schools that existed when we got our independence but there’s still a shortage.”

As the time draws near to celebrate his island’s 25th year of “freedom from England”, Joey expresses disappointment at the ragged journey from 1962 until now.

“We are in a bad state. In the 25 years we have fought and got back nothing. It hasn’t been a true independence either, we have had to borrow money and gone into a lot of debt. We still can’t afford to pay our teachers – a lot of our best brains have been attracted to North America and so on; and we can’t afford to buy books.”

This is where the school project comes in. Furious fund-raising and raffle ticket settling has amassed 3,000 which will enable the Jamaican Ministry of Education to purchase Maths and English language books for five of the neediest in Jamaica.

Jamaica was chosen because of its special anniversary year, but in 1988, two other Caribbean islands with severe education problems, St. Kitts and Dominica, are to benefit.

“This shows that the Caribbean can do things” stresses Joey, who is already taking over another plan to help hard hit schools and involves sponsorship.

“It would be great if a business could just adopt a school. It doesn’t take that much; and it could provide books, equipment and so on,” he enthuses.

When Joey zooms out of London later this summer, he leaves behind an able back up team ready to continue the Educate The Children project.

Back at Holy Cross, he is even busier. Not only is the top accounting student there ( and overall ninth best out of his class of 684) but he is also editor of the Holy Cross Journal of Political  Economy; founder of the College’s International Student’s Union, a reggae deejay, all round sportsman and believe it or not, an Eucharistic minister.

Good citizen

Joey explained the strategy behind attending an institute such as Holy Cross: “It wants to produce good citizens: They don’t have to be rich, they just want its students to have a social conscience – and after four or five years, they hope they leave with one.”

Joey is the eleventh member of his family to attend the college.

When Joey returns to Jamaica in about three years, as is his plan, he wants to put his accounting experience and skills to use as an hotelier.

Joey already boasts valuable experience as a trainee manager with Trust House Forte in Kingston, working at all levels from kitchen to supervisory. Another wish of his is to open a restaurant in London – a place he loves.

Although one of the reasons behind studying at Holy Cross was to get more experience of the North American way of life so he can better deal with Americans, as a hotelier, when they visit Jamaica as tourists. Joey prefers England and feels that he has learned so much more in his one year in London.

But in the end, his allegiance is to Jamaica.

He believes that education is the key to a better Jamaica, whether by seeking the skills for three or four years outside Jamaica’s shores or by adopting a school or buying books.

“I would also encourage young people to get involved in politics. We need two strong parties – so I would promote education and youth involvement in politics…”

Look out Jamaica – in a couple of years that is.


Source: The Gleaner