My 10 year-old daughter and I recently visited Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica - a family resort with endless entertaining activities. The most memorable part of our stay, however, wasn't the water slides or the sandy beach but our visit to a local school.
The Sandals Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International, was created to provide help and play a meaningful role in the communities where the company operates resorts across the Caribbean region. The non-profit organization was launched in 2009 to continue the work that Sandals had undertaken in the region since first opening a resort in 1981 and invests in projects in the areas of Education, Environment and Community.
To date the Sandals Foundation has adopted 26 schools in communities near the resorts, including the school that we visited in Negril, Jamaica. The Foundation assists with the provision of items that the schools need such as books, supplies and sports equipment and also provides teacher training, pays for improvements to infrastructure and sponsors scholarship programs to assist students with the cost of high school education.
During our stay at Beaches Negril, we had the opportunity to visit Mt. Airy All Age School to attend the annual holiday party. The Sandals Foundation conducts an annual holiday toy drive when travel and industry partners, team members and the general public are invited to either make a financial donation or contribute a toy to be distributed at the schools. I had taken Emma shopping prior to our trip and she had carefully selected a gift that she was sure that a girl her age would love and couldn't wait to get to the party.
It takes about 20 minutes or so to drive from the resort to the school and our route took us through some disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Negril. Emma had seen people panhandling on the streets of large cities before but this was the first time that she has come face-to-face with the stark conditions that many people live with. As I watched her face, I could see her absorbing what she was seeing and really understanding for the first time what she has been taught about poverty around the world.
Once we arrived at the school, the Mt. Airy students lined up to greet us and we were treated to a musical performance and a dance by three talented kids. The excitement started to build when Santa and his lovely elf arrived to deliver a present to each of the children and Emma was delighted to watch a little girl open the one that she had so carefully chosen. Cake, ice cream and juice were also served so along with the excitement of a party and presents, I can only imagine how much difficulty the teachers had getting the kids to focus that afternoon.
As we served the cake and ice cream and while the presents were being handed out, we took the opportunity to chat with many of the kids about their families and the subjects they liked best at school. We told them about Canada and how cold it was compared to Jamaica and a few of them thought that they might like to see snow but weren't so sure about the cold. At one point, Emma sat on a picnic bench chatting with a little girl her age when I overheard one of the adults ask them if they were talking about boys. This resulted in a fit of giggles from the two girls and made me smile at the ease with which they were getting to know one another.
The children at Mt. Airy touched my heart and I'm thankful to Beaches Negril for giving us the opportunity to meet them. It was an experience that neither Emma nor I will ever forget.
Sandals and Beaches also provide an opportunity for resort guests to give back to the local communities in a number of ways including the following: child sponsorship; participation in a structured reading lesson at one of the schools; or by making a financial donation. The resorts organize Pack for a Purpose whereby up to 5lbs of approved supplies will be accepted at front desks for local distribution. Vacationing couples celebrating a wedding or honeymoon can also add Sandals Foundation as a gift option to their registry. We packed a few school supplies to donate to the Mt. Airy School which were greatly appreciated and I wished afterward that we had taken more. I would recommend that anyone visiting one of the Sandals/Beaches resorts find a bit of room in their suitcase for much-needed school supplies.
Prior to this trip, I was unaware of the programs that Sandals Resorts International has in place to give back to local communities where they are doing business across the Caribbean. I was impressed to see a corporation that clearly believes it has a responsibility to stand by the community and be a good corporate citizen. I know that I am much more inclined to spend my vacation dollars visiting a resort when corporate management is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of local residents and I hope others feel the same way.
Disclosure: Emma and I were the guests of Beaches Resort Negril, however, I received no other compensation for this post. My opinions are, as always, my own.
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