From golf to giving
An innovative nonprofit -- geared towards organic gardening in low-income schools on three continents -- springs from a luxury resort in Jamaica.
Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 03:06 PM
ONE LOVE, ONE HEART: Young Jamaican students benefit from nutritious school lunches and broaden their cultural horizons by connecting with other students internationally. (Photo: Courtesy One Love Learning)
In Montego Bay, Jamaica, what started with luxury vacation villas offering golf and massage has spiraled into a nonprofit called One Love Learning, which provides local Jamaican elementary students with nourishing organic food and plans to unite three schools — one in Montego Bay, one in Sudan and one in Atlanta — in a trinity of expanded learning.
The force behind this inspiring enterprise is Brenda Isaac. A former corporate event planner, Isaac owns property in Jamaica that was formerly the estate of Oscar Hammerstein, icon of the American opera theater. These days the land is a 17-acre luxury resort called Highland House, offering high-end vacations complete with private butlers and chefs.
"It started with me wanting to give back to the community I was living in [on the island]," Isaac says. Upon visiting a local school to see what was needed, however, Isaac made a disturbing discovery. "It came to my attention that the children were hungry," she recalls. "The government does not provide a school lunch program and basically these children come to school with money from their parents and walk into town every day to get lunch. And there's a percentage of children who go to that school who don't have lunch money — quite simply, they don't eat."
Isaac reached out to the Alliance for a New Humanity, a global group started by Dr. Deepak Chopra that connects people who are interested in creating a peaceful, sustainable world through personal and social transformation.
"I joined hands with another member of the alliance called Urban Farming and we started by building a small organic garden at the school," she says. "Then through some funding by volunteers we built a small cantina to prepare the food."
But they soon realized the school's garden space was too small to accommodate all the children who needed to be fed, so Isaac hired a farmer and designated two of her 17 acres at Highland House for an organic garden to supplement the school's.
"Then comes the part that happened truly organically," she says. "Our guests would come to the island house and we would say to them, 'Why don't you come down to the garden and pick the food you want to eat tonight?' We would tell them the story of what we were doing at the school, and invite them to come with us to deliver food — that's where the magic began."
Guests not only delighted in selecting their own produce, but also found the school visits to be both eye- and heart-opening experiences. In turn, these generous individuals and families opened their pocketbooks to help. One such gentleman, David Stonecipher, a retired executive for Lincoln Financial, offered to buy a new PA system for the school after listening to several gargling announcements during his visit.
According to Isaac, it's now normal for guests to stay at Highland House intending to golf and sail, only to wind up visiting the school and becoming so involved they rarely leave. These experiences have caused Isaac to personally recognize the philosophic teachings of Satish Kumar, who emphasizes the deep relationship between the soul, the soil and society.
The project is currently funded by Highland House guests along with a percentage of rental income, and has taken off, achieving nonprofit status, a board, and the name One Love Learning. The long-term goal of OLL is to connect via satellite network three schools — the original in Jamaica,one in the Sudan and one in Atlanta. The motivation is to connect the children with others from different parts of the world so they can experience diversity while recognizing their similarities and unity.
"The children in Jamaica, for example, are 99 percent black, but they have no real affiliation with Africa," Isaac points out. "And when I went to Africa and visited a school there, it was so interesting because they couldn't tell you where Jamaica was on a map, but they all knew Bob Marley!"
The idea includes a teacher-exchange program among the three schools so students can learn geography, history, music, art and language of the other country from a native teacher. In addition, students will be able to meet via satellite as well as exchange letters in pen-pal fashion.
Isaac is excited about the impact the project could have on the children. "These students," she says, "their spirits are rich ... and [they'll] be able to have a facility where they can connect with one another."