Digicel honors life of former employee with new Centre of Excellence in Portland

The beautiful parish of Portland, about which I have written so often, and surrounding areas, benefited recently from the opening of a wonderful new facility for children with special needs in the quiet seaside village of Orange Bay. The Centre of Excellence for Special Needs is provided by the Digicel Foundation – which has already done fantastic work in this field, and continues to do so. I hope to visit there one day soon. Here is the press release and some lovely photos…

ESP Classroom - Section of a classroom at the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence - Mikhail Betancourt Building, retrofitted with learning resources for children 0-8 years with special needs.
ESP Classroom – Section of a classroom at the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mikhail Betancourt Building, retrofitted with learning resources for children 0-8 years with special needs.

The Digicel Foundation opened the doors to its newest Centre of Excellence for Special Needs in Orange Bay, Portland on Thursday, April 7.

Named the Mickhail Betancourt Building in honor of a staff member who passed away in October 2015, the J$30 million, state-of-the-art facility will cater to over 100 special needs children from communities in and around the parish of Portland. Donovan Betancourt, father of Mickhail and Head of Facilities Management & Technical Operations at Digicel, noted that his son had a “commitment to life, giving and humility … he could not be associated with a more worthy project.”

Charmaine Wilks, a senior supervisor at the Centre of Excellence shared, “Before this, there was no other facility in Portland to serve the special needs community. With this Centre of Excellence, we are now able to provide the kind of proactive support to the special needs community that is so greatly needed. So we are extremely grateful to the Digicel Foundation for this amazing gesture.”

“We remain committed to enhancing the lives of, and providing opportunities for members of the special needs community in Jamaica,” said Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chairman of the Digicel Jamaica Foundation. “Our Patron Denis O’Brien has mandated that this should be a pillar of the Foundation, and has committed J$337 million to the building or extensive renovation of ten such facilities islandwide. We are inspired by the courage of the special needs community and are happy that we can partner with them to fulfil their potential.”

Mrs. Catherine O’Brien (3rd left), wife of Digicel’s Founder and Chairman and Digicel Foundation’s Patron, Hon. Denis O’Brien, OJ, is joined by students of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building, as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the facility on Thursday, April 7 in Orange Bay, Portland. The building was named in honour of a former Digicel staff member who passed away in 2015. Joining her, from left, are Ms Imani Betancourt, sister of the deceased, Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security and Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation. Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence, a $30 million state-of-the-art Special Needs facility, is the seventh of 10 Centres of Excellence to be built by the Digicel Foundation by July 2016.
Mrs. Catherine O’Brien (3rd left), wife of Digicel’s Founder and Chairman and Digicel Foundation’s Patron, Hon. Denis O’Brien, OJ, is joined by students of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building, as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the facility on Thursday, April 7 in Orange Bay, Portland. The building was named in honour of a former Digicel staff member who passed away in 2015. Joining her, from left, are Ms Imani Betancourt, sister of the deceased, Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security and Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation. The Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence, a $30 million state-of-the-art Special Needs facility, is the seventh of 10 Centres of Excellence to be built by the Digicel Foundation by July 2016.

Speaking at the ceremony, Hon Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and Member of Parliament for Portland Western, applauded the commitment of the staff and volunteers of the Early Stimulation Centre – noting that many dedicated their time and efforts, even without payment to provide exceptional care for the students. Minister Vaz commended the Foundation for its commitment to ensuring that individuals with Special Needs are able to accomplish their full potential.

Keynote speaker at the event, Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson, pointed to the significant impact that the new Centre will have based on its location. “With ESP as the only fully government-funded service for young children with disabilities and their families, persons invariably have to travel long distances across the island to access our services,” Minister Robinson said.

She further added, “The opening of this Centre of Excellence will therefore go a far way in helping to decentralize the services in this area, for it is built to serve the needs of persons in Portland, St. Mary and sections of St. Thomas who had to travel to Kingston previously.”

The project will provide Child Development Officers in the parish with a much-needed facility to conduct critical Early Childhood Stimulation programmes. The institution is outfitted with an administration block, classrooms, recreational areas as well as special assessment and therapy rooms.

To date, the Digicel Jamaica Foundation’s Centres of Excellence programme has been implemented in seven schools, strengthening their capacity to cater to special needs students in Jamaica through infrastructure improvement, provision of equipment and material, and the training of teachers and caregivers.

The gym at Early Stimualtion Centre of Excellence - Mickhail Betancourt Building retrofitted with specialised resources to aid in developing the motor skills of students with special needs.
The gym at Early Stimualtion Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building retrofitted with specialised resources to aid in developing the motor skills of students with special needs.

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