The University of Technology, Jamaica, through its Fi Wi Jamaica project, has honoured nine individuals and two organisations at its third annual Ubuntu Essence of Humanity Awards ceremony, held on Sunday, January 29 at the Knutsford Court Hotel. Leading the list of awardees were educator, Keisha Hayle, and long-time gender and water rights advocate, Linette Vassell who both received the most prestigious awards–Ubuntu trophies—at the event. The Sir Howard Cooke’s Thursday Group Character Development Centre in Nannyville also received an Ubuntu Essence of Humanity trophy for establishing day care, internet and homework services.

The University honoured Ms. Hayle, who is principal of the Padmore Primary School in West Rural St. Andrew, for her “exemplary and selfless leadership in education” and for consistently “striving for academic excellence at the Padmore Primary School, for going beyond the call of duty, and for unstinting care for the education of the children of the community.” The University called Ms. Hayle a “selfless, dedicated, committed and extremely hardworking philanthropist” who has taught and mentored over 5,000 students at the school.

UTech  Jamaica praised Ms. Hayle for turning around the fortunes of the school, which in 2015 became a top performer in Grade 3, Grade 4 and GSAT examinations. Students from the school achieved 100% passes in examinations at these levels, moving the institution from the bottom of the National Education Inspectorate’s performance list.

For her part, Vassell received the Ubuntu Essence of Humanity trophy for her more than four decades of advocacy for women’s rights and for the provision of social water. UTech Jamaica lauded her contribution to the passing of several pieces of legislation to improve the status of women and children in Jamaica. Notable among these were the Maternity Leave Act and the Minimum Wage Act, passed in the 1970s.  Under the Minimum Wage Act, domestic workers were for the first time entitled to a legally determined basic wage.

Vassell was also lauded for her unwavering advocacy for the establishment of “community-controlled and/or co- managed water and sanitation supply systems, in particular in low-income urban, rural and remote rural areas.”

Other Ubuntu Essence of Humanity Awards winners were Mr. Nicholas Scott, Ms. Althea Young, Dr. Jean Purchas-Tulloch, Sheldon Millington and Mr. Fitzroy Mils, all of whom received citations, the second highest Ubuntu Essence of Humanity Award, for community outreach. Mr. Scott was recognized for opening an evening institute to help adults and teens achieve CSEC subject passes and organizing outreach activities to troubled and needy children through the Welcome Outreach Ministries. Mrs. Young has worked through the Jacks Hill Karate Club to train over two hundred boys and girls, giving them with a safe environment in which to learn the martial art, while developing discipline and other personal skills.  Dr. Purchas-Tulloch, who is affiliated with the Jamaica Capital Project for Dispute Resolution, volunteers at schools in underserved rural communities and spearheads a mentoring group comprising twelve university students. Mr. Millington organizes outreach activities for the most socially vulnerable.

Among the initiatives in which he has been involved, are visits to old age homes and hospices for people living with HIV and AIDS. He has also raised funds to provide health care to children in the Seaview Gardens community of St. Andrew.  Mr. Mills has been engaged in community development work with L.E.A.P. Centre and the Y.M.C.A.

Mr. Sydney Henry received his award for advocating for housing and sanitation for vulnerable members of the Moneague community in St. Ann. Mr. Leon Malcolm, a student at UTech Jamaica received a certificate for community outreach to the youth of Savanna-La-Mar, Kingston and the UTech Jamaica student body. The University recognized the Song Embassy for providing music education service in the Hope Tavern community of Papine.

The Ubuntu awards honour Jamaican citizens, residents and organisations that have had unique, transformative and enduring influence on the way that Jamaican society values the most vulnerable. In this regard, honourees have demonstrated courage in standing up for the marginalised or socially excluded. They will have advocated for better community and/or stronger national responses to the condition of those who endure stigma and discrimination because of their community of origin, type of employment, race, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. For the last two years, the staging of the awards has fallen under the mantle of the University Fi Wi Jamaica project. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Fi Wi Jamaica is a 3-year national social intervention Project to expand a window of opportunity for the protection and promotion of human rights of targeted socially excluded and vulnerable members of the Jamaican population. The initiative, formally launched on August 19, 2015, builds upon the UTech Cares Project at the University of Technology, Jamaica, a campus-wide human rights programme based on respect and social tolerance successfully executed in 2013/14 with funding support from USAID Jamaica and the Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica. Fi Wi Jamaica seeks to scale up the activities from the setting of a single university to that of the national community in response to national imperatives.