Writer proud to be part of initiative to enhance education in Jamaica
January 26, 2017
No matter how steep the climb was and the weariness she often felt, turning back or quitting were never options for Nadine Williams.
Faced with reuniting with a mother she hardly knew in a new country and caring alone for her three children, she used the art of writing and storytelling as therapy to overcome those difficult situations.
When the challenges of raising the kids became too much for her to hold down a full-time job, Williams turned to writing in 2008 and published the first of four books, ‘The Culmination of Marriage Between Me & My Pen’.
‘With this Pen I do Tell’, ‘Pen on Fire’ that contains the popular poem, ‘The Immigrant Child’, and ‘Love Rocks’, a children’s book, have followed.
Four years ago, the Jamaica High Commission in Ottawa invited Williams to read at the opening of that’s year’s Diaspora conference in her native Jamaica. Following the fifth biennial conference in Montego Bay, Jamaicans and Friends of Jamaica in the Diaspora met to discuss how they could use their resources and expertise to support the Caribbean country’s education system.
Out of that meeting emerged the Jamaica Diaspora Education Task Force (JDETF) that has collaborated with organizations in the western Caribbean country and the Diaspora to canvass funding to upgrade 14 schools in the 14 parishes.
Jamaicans in the Diaspora are being persuaded to raise US$2 million through the ‘pledge2build’ program by the end of January 2017 to enhance early childhood and primary schools infrastructure and upgrade teachers’ professional development.
The estimated cost for each school is US$110,000.
As the ‘pledge2build’ program Canadian representative, Williams is excited to be part of this initiative to enhance early childhood and primary schools infrastructure and upgrade teachers’ professional development.
“Early childhood education in Jamaica made me who I am today,” she said. “I remember the teachers who have had an impact on my life. Also, it’s education that is going to change the landscape in Jamaica.”
Williams, who attended Weston and West Humber Collegiate Institutes, is aware of the advantages of a solid education even though a confluence of factors led her to falling short by three credits of completing high school.
“I struggled academically in high school,” she admitted. “I was always really good in the languages, including French in which I received the highest grades. When it came to science and math, I had no brain for those subjects. I found myself repeating classes and I just got fed up and left school.”
While ensconced in her first job as a lead reservation agent at Venture Inn Hotel (now Travelodge) near Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Williams found the church that provided a space to worship and meet fellow Jamaicans.
“That’s where my whole socialization took form,” she said. “That’s where I met people who made me feel comfortable and at home.”
Raised by her grandparents in rural St. Mary’s after her mother left to work in Portland which is about 64 kilometres away before heading to Toronto in 1975, Williams remembers reading under the kerosene lamp light to family members.
“That was where my love for reading and writing emerged,” she said. “There were about 12 cousins in that small house most of the time and those humble beginnings were the starting point for me rising to become a poet and author.”
In 1985, Williams – who was 15 at the time – and her older brother joined their mother in the Greater Toronto Area.
“We came in December which was very cold,” she recalled. “That was hard besides reconnecting with my mother who I had no recollection of. It was both an exciting and scary time for me.”
Not long after quitting school, Williams married in 1991. The union produced three children before it ended six years later when she was eight months pregnant with the last child.
“Looking back, I now know that I was not ready for that kind of commitment,” she said. “My husband was abusive and that didn’t help.”
After a few months as a mature student at York University, Williams left to seek employment in order to take care of herself and her children. She sold travel insurance and opened a cleaning business that folded after a few months.
Nine years ago, she turned to writing, publishing and performing.
Williams has read at Queen’s Park for Black History Month and various events across the city, hosted a community dialogue breakfast that addressed youth violence and produced theatrical shows at Brampton’s Rose Theatre.
Her poem, ‘Love’, was mounted at the School of Makeup Art in Yorkville, a tribute poem for late Canadian singer/songwriter Haydain Neale hangs on a wall at Mount Sinai Hospital.
The journey in the late decade for the 2011 Citizenship & Immigration Canada Volunteer Award Winner has been challenging but rewarding.
“I enjoy what I do,” Williams pointed out. “On the other hand, I have had to make huge sacrifices along the way like getting rid of my car and home.”
Instead of blaming external circumstances for unfortunate life events, her approach has always been to look inwards and see if there’s anything she can do to improve her lot.
With that kind of attitude, Williams will always be a winner.