This morning was hot and breezy. When I arrived at the Nanny Bee (2017 edition), spelling was already under way. Up on the concrete stage was a row of chairs, on which were perched the youngest children (Round One – Grade One), legs dangling. Left of stage, a spell master (if that is the correct word) with a microphone, and some judges sat at a table. Teachers, parents, brothers, sisters, neighbours, classmates – all were gathered under a large tent before them. To our right was a somewhat restless group of older children, waiting their turn to participate; they were regularly admonished by the organisers to be quiet. To our left, sticky cakes were on sale.
We were at the Sir Howard Cooke Character Development Centre on Mountain View Avenue, in the community of Nannyville Gardens. Just above us, across the main road, towered the green bulk of Long Mountain, with the houses of the wealthy peering down on us from the crest of the hill.
The organisers of Nanny Bee are the Nannyville Uprising Youth Action Club, founded in 2006, which provides all kinds of services to the community, including a homework program, skills and leadership training, sports – and a Mini Miss Nannyville Pageant. Support and funding came from National Integrity Action (NIA) and Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica (YCWJ) – which is starting its summer-long Community Buil’ Back with Yute project.
NIA is extremely active these days in many community-based activities across the island. The NGO is getting out its messages about good governance, anti-corruption, integrity, the right way to do things. You may not know so much about YCWJ, a youth-led organisation. YCWJ was founded in 2004 as an overseas affiliate of the Florida-based Youth Crime Watch of America, under the aegis of former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb (a great believer in partnerships). I was working at the Embassy at the time; with the Ambassador’s guidance and working with colleagues I helped set up the very first training session at St. George’s College, which included youth clubs, students, community police, teachers, guidance counsellors, NGO members and youth workers. It was a hectic few days. I remember vividly the launch at St. Patrick’s Foundation in Seaview Gardens, and the subsequent work we did in August Town.
Ah, those were the days. Now YCWJ has steadily moved on and entered another phase – having been embraced by students and lecturers at the University of the West Indies, in particular UWI’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship – in recent years. It is forging ahead, empowering youth in communities, such as in this NIA program, and giving young people hope.
So, over forty children, aged six to twelve years, were competing in the Nanny Bee. It was indeed competitive, and it took a while before a few of the children fell by the wayside and were escorted off the stage (looking just slightly disconsolate) by one of the officials. Things got particularly tense when it got to “last chance” words to spell. The children were very well behaved, though. They didn’t sulk or make faces. They were most professional. The audience, for its part, restrained itself when tempted to spell out the words for them. We clapped winners and losers alike. It was very sportsmanlike.
The interesting part was the “unseen list.” The children all did pretty well with the words that they knew would come up and that they had already learned by heart. The unseen words presented some challenges, however. The nerves increased somewhat.
Young Summer-rae Graham (an interesting name) in Grade Two was composed, calm and enjoyed herself thoroughly. However, there was hot competition from Fantasia, Amoy and Serfina. Fabianique Powell (another interesting name) came out on top, eventually. I was quietly rooting for McKeil Moncrieffe, who stood very straight, with his hands folded before him. Caleb Lewis was doing well until he inexplicably missed off the “e” from “blue.” He looked at the spell master after the “u,” as if to say, “I think there’s something missing.” I felt like shouting “e! Add an e!” – but of course didn’t. I would have been thrown out! Everyone stuck to the rules.
The event was impeccably well organised. Congratulations to the NUYAC, which is doing great work in Nannyville; to the community, which came out in support; and most of all, to the children, who put their best foot forward every time.
Who won in the higher grades? I will consult with colleagues, and get back to you.