David Duke travelled to Jamaica with Unicef to see how its partnership with the Commonwealth Games is helping disadvantaged children
After a fairly long journey via London, Miami, Kingston and a three-and-a-half hour bus journey to Treasure Beach, we arrived in Jamaica to start this amazing experience with Unicef. We arrived at around 2am and after a few hours’ sleep it was straight into a team meeting at breakfast to discuss our plans for the day ahead. Although tired, I was energised by the excitement of the experiences.
Our first visit of the day was to a school in Treasure Beach. Geneve Primary School is in a very rural part of the island, set among sprawling fields and rolling hills. It teaches around 100 five- to 12-year-olds.
We arrived at the school and were greeted by smiles and waves from excited children before being given a tour. We then headed over to the sports field, which was very dusty, uneven and had very little grass. This didn’t hold back these eager pupils though as they enjoyed a range of sports led by community coaches.
The idea behind these sessions is not just about keeping children active, but also to engage them outside the classroom and make learning as fun as possible. One game was Sharks where the coaches call out how many sharks were about to chase the young kids. If it was two, they had to get into groups of two, if they got the number wrong they would get eaten by the sharks.
The coaches also ask them questions about topics they have learnt in the classroom, such as who is the fastest man in the world. The response ‘Usain Bolt’ is screamed at full pitch before all the children then charge around the pitch.
All the specially trained coaches are very passionate about what they do. I was inspired by the effort and motivation which shone through and how they manage to drop in wider educational messages into the sports sessions. I am lucky to have seen quite a few sport-for-change projects over the world, and obviously I run one in Scotland, but it was great to share ideas and see how other people are using sport to create change for children and improve standards of education.
I also had the chance to participate and lead some of the sessions with the children, which seemed to go well, except for the occasional trouble they had with my accent!
It’s funny, but when back home in Scotland, you don’t realise it is in the poorest, most disadvantaged areas where the people seem to be friendliest and are often the nicest communities to be part of.
After the fun on the sports field, we then went into the classroom where the grade one class was doing spelling and writing themed around food in the kitchen. It was hard not to get involved and before I knew it, I was getting tapped on the shoulder by everyone in the class to help. I made sure I never gave the answers though as I was scared of the teacher. She had great presence and the children really responded to her.
All the children were smart and bright, the teachers organised and passionate. It showed me that no matter what resources are available, great things can be achieved. One particular pupil stood out: 11-year-old Jannika who had been at the school for five years. The Olympic 100-metre champions Shelley Anne Fraser Pryce and Usain Bolt were among her heroes. “I am an excellent pupil” she told me proudly. She loves running the 400 metres and has dreams of one day becoming an engineer.
It’s funny, but when back home in Scotland, you don’t realise it is in the poorest, most disadvantaged areas where the people seem to be friendliest and are often the nicest communities to be part of. I really felt that when we visited Jamaica. They have very little and don’t have a lot of opportunity, but they are happy and enthusiastic. In the classroom, posters urged all the children to be good, work hard and have determination. They even have a song they sing about being a bundle of potentia’. The teachers and leaders do so well with limited resources: they keep the children’s hopes alive and instil belief in them that they are capable of anything.
I am 10 years on from being homeless, and I am very fortunate for the things I get to do in life and the people I meet and the places I get to see, but I will never forget where I came from and I will never forget my experience in poverty both as a child and an adult. When I see some of the children here in Jamaica, it reminds me of the barriers I faced to improve my life and the lack of opportunities that were presented to me.
It was fantastic working with Unicef, such great team work and it was so great travelling with Reggie, he was so down-to-earth and engaging with every one we met.
I felt really proud to be there to see how the Commonwealth Games happening in Glasgow, 4,000 miles away from the kids in Treasure Beach, is helping to change their lives and inspire them. It was eye-opening, inspiring and heartwarming and I hope everyone joins me and the other Flying Scots at the games opening ceremony so we can help even more children around the Commonwealth be everything they dream they can be.
David Duke developed Street Soccer Scotland to give a focus for young people who are homeless or suffering from addiction. He is one of six Flying Scots chosen by Unicef to see how its partnership with the Commonwealth Games is helping disadvantaged children around the world. He traveled with TV presenter Reggie Yates to Jamaica.