The Gleaner

PAVE paving the way for Portland’s youths

Paul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer

PORTLAND IS known the world over for its breathtaking vistas of cascading and sparkling waterfalls, mesmerising blue holes, sun-kissed beaches, lush vegetation, misty mountain peaks in the distance, dramatic coastlines, meandering rivers, and so much more.

The economy of this northeastern parish is driven mainly by agrarian activities, and to a significant extent, by tourism. In this region, the roads to personal and professional development can be very rough, literally and figuratively, as everything is not always paradisiacal. There are challenges in paradise.

But since January 2018, life has got somewhat easier for the parishioners. That was when Portland Arts and Vocational Centre (PAVE) started to offer classes to some of them. The founders are Audra Handal, Gulu Chanari, Al and Patsy Merritt.

“We identified a need in this community based on many years of doing Bible School at Port Antonio Methodist Church alongside our church in Miami called Kendall United Methodist Church. This mission started in 2005. We took a best-practice approach by visiting other programmes with likeminded concepts as well as hiring a consultant from the University of Miami to help us put the logistics into place. This process took us years,” Handal, executive director at PAVE,” told The Gleaner.

In that capacity she collaborates with the board of directors to identify, create, and implement the vision and mission of the organisation. She is responsible for getting the board’s approval of the annual budget as well as overseeing the expenditures and reporting the financial matters to the board. Among other things, Handal also monitors the day-to day-activities to ensure that they are in alignment with the mission, vision, and bylaws of PAVE.

The vocational training approach at PAVE is based on the need in the parish by identifying the demographic of unemployed individuals and what the jobs available to their graduates are. The modules are meticulously designed, focusing on self-worth, vocational and arts training, and life skills. They collaborate with local artisans, incorporating feedback from community leaders, and provide hands-on experience as the students are equipped with technical prowess. At present, there are approximately 30 students in their charge, and they have graduated 239.

“We have many achievements. However, these are our greatest, the 239 graduates. Our students who have their own businesses after completing our entrepreneur class. The renovation of our centre located at Folly Oval. Our graduates who are now employed in the following areas – hospitality, security, lifeguard and construction,” Handal shared about PAVE’s accomplishment.

They have received many grants, and in April, they received its first national award, a special award, during the 2023 Prime Minister National Youth Award for Excellence (PMNYAE).

“I am very overjoyed. The best part of receiving this award is the graduates who are leading this moment in youth development. This award belongs to them. I think the Government of Jamaica has recognised the importance of education and empowerment of youths. I feel that the PMNYAE nominating committee understands the power of education and employment … The testimonies of our graduates and their successes for life-changing opportunities play a huge part in why we won this award,” Handal told The Gleaner.

The programme booklet for the event, which took place on the lawns of Jamaica House, says: “The Portland Arts and Vocational Education Centre stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity in Port Antonio, Jamaica, nurturing the talents and aspirations of its youths for over a decade. Rooted in a mission to address youth unemployment and uplift disadvantaged communities, PAVE’s holistic approach blends vocational training with essential life skills and a nurturing environment.

“The success stories of PAVE’s graduates, now thriving in employment or pursuing further education, attest to the transformative power of PAVE’s approach. As PAVE looks to the future, it envisions a cadre of graduates who not only excel in their chosen fields, but also serve as catalysts for positive change in their communities, embodying the values of empowerment and resilience installed at the heart of the PAVE experience.”





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