On October 5, 2015, the Trench Town Polytechnic College opened its doors on Eighth Street in the South St. Andrew community. One of Jamaica’s newest educational institutions, the College resulted from the merger of the former Trench Town High School and Charlie Smith High School. As Principal Dosseth Watson-Edwards points out, it is the fulfilment of National Hero Marcus Garvey’s dream, expressed in his Party Manifesto, to establish a Jamaican Polytechnic University.
Now, it is the recipient of Three Million, Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand ($3,550,000) under the Queen’s Young Leaders (QYL) Programme, made available through the Digicel Foundation. The QYL Programme includes grants to organisations across the Commonwealth that offer new opportunities and skills to young people, paving the way for them to have a positive impact on their communities.
The grant will enable a series of innovations at the school. Firstly, it will provide specialized machinery for garment construction. Specifically, a line of reasonably priced professional wear is envisaged, along with a line of footwear and bags made from hemp and other natural fibers. The Polytechnic also intends to manufacture its own high quality uniforms. It is currently recruiting 25 students for this first training course. Once it is up and running, the production space and machines will also be rented at a nominal rate for community members to use.
Secondly, a line of ceramic jewellery is planned, with training provided by a local master craftsman in the field. Trench Town has clay pits, which will provide the material.
Principal Dosseth Edwards-Watson stresses the value of the school’s “two-way” relationship with the surrounding community. The Polytechnic taps into the resources and skills of residents, and in turn provides benefits through entrepreneurship training with local designers and craftsmen as instructors. Apart from helping to create jobs and sustainable skills, it also helps to steer young people away from gangs. So “soft skills” also have a place in its curriculum and interactions with the community.
The goal at Trench Town Polytechnic is to prepare students for positions in areas where there are employment opportunities: “We want to carve out a niche for ourselves, with sustainable innovation. And we don’t train young people for unemployment,” asserts Edwards-Watson. With an emphasis on technical skills such as data operation, auto-body repair, customer service, maritime studies, port operations and logistics, the College must stay up to date with the latest technology.
“We have students who don’t want to go home at the end of the day,” smiles Edwards-Watson. She takes pride in the beautifully landscaped educational institution, which she says has been transformed into a “compassionate environment.” The community has “taken ownership” of the Polytechnic, which has a student population of 400 – sixty per cent of them males.
CEO of the Digicel Foundation Dane Richardson said the Foundation was happy to support the Trench Town Polytechnic College and work with the QYL Programme. “This project is a close fit with our own mandate to help build resilient, vibrant communities,” Richardson shared.
Edwards-Watson speaks of the tremendous worth, and positive outcomes of private sector investment in education: “Think what a difference the garment manufacturing training alone will make to 25 families, and to the wider community!” She expresses her gratitude to the Digicel Foundation: “I cannot put it into words how I felt about the grant,” she says, confessing: “When I heard that we had been successful – I bawled!”