Family business build schools in Jamaica
October 20, 2017
Watching Hotel Rwanda based on the horrific genocide in the landlocked East African country in 1994 brought Leslie Josephs to tears.
Nearly six months later while at a social function with his wife, he met a young woman who had just graduated from the University of Toronto and asked her where she was from.
‘Rwanda’ was the reply.
When he told her he saw the movie, she related that she was one of the almost 1,200 people rescued by the hotel manager after Hutu military forces initiated an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tutsi minority.
“Although one man couldn’t save all the people, he did what he could just to save a few,” said Josephs son, Mark Josephs who is the president of Kisko Products. “That really resonated with my dad and inspired him to do more by giving back to uplift people and communities.”
Leslie Josephs passed away a decade ago.
He ran a snow cone business in Jamaica before migrating to Canada with his family on Christmas Eve in 1975. The family started Kisko Products two years later that acquired the Mr. Freeze brand in October 2005, making Kisko – which employs many Caribbean immigrants – Canada’s largest freeze pop manufacturer.
Since his death on Christmas Eve in 2007, his family – the matriarch Glenor and sons Mark, Randy, Peter and Tim -- has established a scholarship for students pursuing business studies at Jamaica College – his alma mater – and built three schools in Jamaica. Countless persons and organizations have also benefitted from the Josephs’ generosity.
The company celebrated its 40th anniversary this year by taking 12 employees, family members and friends to Jamaica to build a basic a school.
The is the second school project they have undertaken through Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation (HHJF) which, with the Jamaican consulate in Toronto support, came up with a mandate to create a world-class education system in the country.
In the last seven years, 18 schools have been built with the support of Jamaican nationals in Canada and their friends.
Last August, Josephs and his group spent a week building a school that can accommodate up to 35 students in Lower Buxton in St. Ann parish.
“The experience was overwhelming,” he said. “The group not only helped to build, but they got to see the community’s reaction and understand the impact of their work. We may never actually see the end result of what we did, but that doesn’t really matter.”
The Josephs built their first school through HHJF two years ago at Kinloss in Trelawny.
Patricia Curnow, the accounts receivable manager at Kisko, was among the employees that participated in that build.
“It was just a marvelous experience,” said Curnow who migrated from Jamaica 35 years ago. “I did some painting and assisted with unloading the trailer the first day we got to the site. The weather was hot and I had never done work like that before, but I derived so much pleasure doing something out of my comfort zone. The biggest thing was seeing the smiles on the faces of teachers and students after we completed the task. That’s priceless.”
The all-expenses paid trip to Jamaica was a team building exercise to demonstrate to employees they are part of a close-knit unit whose contributions are valued.
“They come to work every day and give us everything they have to keep the company going,” Josephs said. “The least we could do is make them feel appreciated. There was one worker on our first trip who had never stayed in a hotel before. She was so enamored with everything that she pledged she would pay to go with us this year and she did.”
Josephs said his father would be proud to know the family has stuck together and is giving back.
“He would be most happy that mom and her sons have been together as a team,” he said. “Dad didn’t want money to split us and create an issue. We have had our moments, but we know how blessed we are to be in this positon. He was also big on treating people and with respect and dignity and we strive to do that all the time.”
Staffed by 92 full-time and about 100 seasonal employees, Kisko Products recently acquired organic certification.