May 30, 2021 Rosalee D. Wood

The Fosters Open Their Homes to Children In Their Community

What started out as neighbourly love, has now blossomed into a new school at the Fosters home in the community of Bullet Tree, Petersfield, Westmoreland. In September 2020 the Foster’s opened their home to two children from their community who sought assistance to use their home WiFi to adjust to online school. The Fosters now have 33 children attending their “Online School’.  “Not many of these children have internet access at their homes,” Camille Ebanks-Foster explained, “We are fortunate to have, so I invited one child over, and more started coming.”

She explained that with four children of their own, two in high school, one at primary school and the youngest almost two years old, they were at first timid to allow more children because of the fear of bringing the COVID-19 virus into their space. “But we couldn’t say no,” she expressed, “So, that one told another and every day we keep getting an additional student until now sometimes we have up to twelve children at a time, but I’m really not counting. We are so busy with them I cannot truly say how many pass through each day.” She further explained that some of the children are on a shift system, so when they leave, another set comes and sometimes children are at the house until late in the evening. Children of varying ages visit the Fosters each day. “We have children from Early Childhood Institutions (ECI), we have high school children, we have primary school children, and students preparing for PEP,” Ebanks-Foster shared.

In addition, she clarified that they not only allow the children to use the internet, but they also assist them with their school work. She explained that some of these children are from households that do not have devices, therefore both Fosters have allowed the children to use their personal phones to access their assignments. Both have also joined various WhatsApp school groups in order to receive communication from the teachers of each student that work from their home. She furthered that some of the students who started there could not read and so her husband, Garnet Foster, has had to teach them how, “This is when we realized that many of them needed more than just the Wi-Fi and that they also needed our guidance and help to understand each task that was set. They needed teaching. Garnet is up from 5:00 am most mornings teaching children how to read but none of us are teachers,” Foster explained, highlighting that in the now-viral video that highlighted their work, she joked and said, “I can now get my Bachelor’s in Education.” Garnet Foster lost his job as a result of COVID-19, which has caused massive job loss across the island, and Camille Ebanks-Foster had, prior to COVID-19, resigned from working to stay at home and provide care to the youngest Foster. Being without a job did not stop them from providing all the assistance each child needs. 

When asked how they survived without salaries, Ebanks-Foster stated, “By the grace of God. But I go by the saying, each one help one. I say Lord, if I can help someone as I go along, my living will not be in vain. Some children come with their lunch, but some simply cannot afford it. I am not going to see a child without food and not feed them. Whatever little we have is shared, to ensure that everybody eats,” she voiced. Ebanks-Foster has recently acquired a work-from-home job. She stated that they have received assistance from several persons without asking, “Some parents have contributed whatever they can whenever they can. We don’t ask anyone for anything. Our focus is on the children. Ensuring that they can access their schoolwork and that they understand it.”

Since its inception in September 2020, the Foster’s home school has found favour with several donors locally and overseas. The Principal of Petersfield Primary and Infant, Susan Rattray-Hammond, heard about what the Foster’s were doing and stopped by to drop off some supplies for them. In addition, entertainer Shevin Jarret who goes by the stage name of Jafrass, who is from the community, brought his neighbour to the Fosters as he was concerned that the child was not doing any school work, and asked what was needed “That is how we got the desks outside. We asked him for a few sheets of plyboard so we can make some desks and that was his contribution,” Foster stated, “We are grateful for the small assistance as it is helping these children a lot.” To date they have received, tablets, laptops, school bags, stationery supplies and cash donations.

Romeich Entertainment, a popular record label and home to top dancehall artist Shenseea and Ding Dong, donated five tablets. Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Central, George Wright, donated one case of notebooks along with several packs of pencils. The largest donor to date, Boblyn Ranger Dobbs along with 22 family members and friends, did not hesitate to donate funds and devices, which they labelled before shipping. In the end a donation of 18 Chrome Books and two tablets, school bags and stationery for the children, in addition to covering the cost of the Foster’s Internet service for a period of five months was made.

As an educator, my purpose in life is to support and facilitate the transformation of lives, one mind at a time,” Ranger Dobbs shared, “So, when I see a family such as the Fosters, selflessly opening their home to students in the community so that they are able to have access to a device and internet; when I see students of varied ages sitting at a table, sharing one device to access their online learning, I knew I had to assist in some way. I was inspired by their ‘nothing is going to stop my learning’ attitude, not even COVID-19. Because of this, my donors and I will serve as mentors for each student, with parent permission. We must care for each other as we would want to be cared for.”

Other donors such as Christopher Jones, Sheila Gordon, Diana Heywood and Talcia and Brian Palmer, have donated their service by providing cooked meals for the children at different intervals. Stacey Riley, Denise Levine, Alton McKenzie, Rose Thomas, Andrea Dunn, Arnette Storer, have contributed cash and tablets valued at over $300,000 JMD.Digicel Jamaica also stepped up to join the masses of persons who are supporting the Foster’s Online School. On Wednesday, May 5, a team stopped by the Foster’s home to gift their online school with sanitation supplies, masks, and snacks for the student, as their Teacher’s Day gift to the Fosters. 

“We’re showing our appreciation and respect to every educator, including those philanthropic community leaders, who’re making a difference,” Jody-Ann Fearon, Public Relations Executive expressed, “They include the Fosters, who’ve taken up the mantle of supporting our future leaders in continuing their education. We acknowledge the time, resources, and energy the Fosters are investing in providing access to laptops and the internet to students of Petersfield. As a Digital Operator and big supporter of community development, we salute them.”

Fearon spent the day interacting with the students at Foster’s home, carrying out reading activities along with playing a few interactive games. 

“They’re enthusiastic!,” she stated, “They’re eager to learn, read, and do their studies. This demonstrates how determined they are about achieving their goals. We wish them and the Foster’s all the best in their future endeavours and reminds them to continue to grow in knowledge.” The Fosters recently hosted a cook-out that helped to raise funds to replace the tarpaulin covering with a wood and zine structure to provide shelter for the students during their online school sessions. 

“The tarpaulin didn’t provide sufficient shelter,” Ebanks-Foster stated, “The wind had also damaged the tarpaulin and when it rains the children were getting wet. We had to take them into the house, and there is not much space in there, neither is it safe. We want to keep adhering to the social distance protocols, so we need additional space outside. So this shed will provide better shelter during any weather.” 

To date, the Fosters are in need of more desks and chairs for the students. But with what little resources they have, they have been progressing. The parents of all children who benefit from the Foster’s Online School are grateful of the assistance their children are receiving.

By: Rosalee D. Wood | [email protected]

Rosalee, originally from the parish of Clarendon, grew up in Frome, Westmoreland, and is a Manning’s School alumnus, who earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI Mona). She is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration through the University of South Wales. Rosalee is also a businesswoman, who has owned and operated several businesses for the past 12 years. Her experience covers several fields and includes marketing and communications, business development, entertainment, tourism, food and beverage, and administrative duties. She currently wears several professional hats; a freelance writer for the Jamaica Observer; CEO and owner of Entertainment City Jamaica, a media production and marketing firm; and Editor-in-Chief of Off Di Track Magazine, a travel and entertainment guide, and Western Outlook an online newspaper highlighting western Jamaican news and views. She has transitioned from professional football player to volunteer football executive and currently sits on several executive boards within the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and other associations.  Rosalee’s philosophy of life has motivated her to offer her services and time to helping others. Her journey with Cornerstone Jamaica was peaked when she wrote her first article about the organization. CJ’s direction of teaching a man how to fish instead of giving them a fish is how she believes non-profit organizations should operate. Head of CJ, Gary Robinson’s personality and drive was also a great motivation. In turn, her most memorable moment was when she was given the opportunity to write an article on their fall 2019 vision clinic, giving her the view that Cornerstone Jamaica has set the standard on how non-profits should be operated.