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SEEN UP NORTH: Alumni give back to Combermere


Tony Best

SEEN UP NORTH: Alumni give back to Combermere

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“Lives are in the making here.”

Those six words and many more make up the rallying cry, the school song that most Combermerians sing with relish. The song helps to tell an interesting story of what motivated a band of graduates to come to the aid of dozens of current students of the school at Waterford in St Michael.

And they were stirred to action because in the words of Harold ‘Neil’ Jones, an electrical engineer in New York who is also chairman of the board of the Combermere Alumni Association, one of the oldest Barbadian organisations in North America, “we want to say thanks”.

Actually, it’s a tale of “giving back” to an educational institutions that has been educating and training Barbadians for more than a century and which gave West Indies cricket several stars, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Wesley Hall and Kraigg Brathwaite among them; a Prime Minister, the late David Thompson; several cabinet ministers and a long list of parliamentarians; a commissioner of the Royal Barbados Police Force; and physicians at key hospitals in London, New York, Toronto, Montreal and, of course, Bridgetown.

“We in and out of the Combermere Alumni Association have a responsibility to help,” said Anthony Walters, a consultant pharmacist and a graduate of Columbia University in New York. “It is time for us to ease the pressure on the school back home and on the teachers and students.”

What they did was to step in and provide students who are dreaming of becoming professionals – teachers, physicians, dentists, scientists, you name it – with urgently needed scientific instruments required for experiments in the laboratories.

“It’s vital that the students have the tools needed in the labs so they can grasp the concepts of the science subjects being taught there.

“The instruments enable the students to conduct experiments which boost their knowledge,” added Walters, who left Combermere in 1960.

But why would it be necessary for the alumni to help supply the school with science instruments in the first place?

As both Jones and Walters explained, the need for instruments was dramatised when a group of graduates attended last year’s school reunion, an annual event that attracts hundreds of Combermerians at home and abroad.

“While we were at the reunion we heard from teachers and others that the school was experiencing a severe shortage of equipment,” explained Jones. “A few of us went on a tour of the school’s science departments so we could get a first-hand look at the situation.

“Over the years a combination of factors contributed to the problem, breakage was one of them. Old age and wear and tear were another. Then there was the lack of funds to buy new and modern instruments. And as if they weren’t enough, the Barbados government budgetary constraints prevented the school from replacing the instruments.”

The situation had become so dire that teachers often borrowed instruments from other schools to help teach students, said Jones. “We felt we had to do something so we turned to our members in the US, Canada and the UK. We also appealed to the alumni in Barbados to contribute to the effort.”

In a letter sent by the association to former students, the message was clear:

“your donations will have a direct impact on students in the classroom, providing them much-needed tools and helping them to develop the skills needed to compete in this changing environment.

“We can’t afford to have unequipped youth coming out of the school when we can do something about it,” said Jones.

Some Combermerians jumped at the opportunity to extend a financial helping hand while others were lukewarm in their reactions to the plea for help.

The contributions were varied. A stay-at-home mum with three kids gave US$20 while another former student gave US$7 500.

In all 27 Bajans chipped in: two each from Barbados Canada and the United Kingdom and 21 from the United States.

They contributed US$12 000 that was used to purchase new and sophisticated electron microscopes, highly sensitive scientific balances and other instruments.

“We have sent a shipment which the school has received and we plan to send another set of equipment next month,” said Jones.

“We intend to continue the appeal in order to buy more instruments for the students.

The alumni of American and Canadian schools are a major source of financing for their alma mater and we should see it that way.”

Walters put it differently.

“We must embrace the approach ‘learn, earn and return,’ when it comes to our schools and our country,” he said. “We would welcome more contributions from the large alumni.”

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