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Kingston, Jamaica, September 24, 2021 – Having started its rollout in a few select schools in August of this year, other schools within Jamaica’s wider early childhood education system will soon have access to the Graphogame literacy app. Developed by linguists, neuropsychologists, and speech pathologists, Graphogame is the most-researched educational game, with proven efficacy in achieving basic literacy, equal to 1-to-1 teacher support, among children in the 4-9 age groups.

The app is a generous gift to Jamaican school children from Winsome Wishes for KIDS (WWKIDS) in NY, with the assistance of the United States-based Windward Institute. In Jamaica, the Issa Trust Foundation has generously partnered with WWKIDS for the app rollout and the attendant nationwide awareness campaign.
“The pilot rollout in Jamaica has demonstrated that this app can play a very important role in bridging gaps in our early childhood education system, which are now widening as a result of COVID-19,” said Simone Sobers, Founder of WWKIDS. “It is interactive, intuitive, and user friendly, and best of all, it is free. Once downloaded, it can be played without connectivity and data, which is significant at a time when children may have increased access to devices through several governmental and private sector initiatives, but still lack connectivity and have no access to data,” she continued.
The Issa Trust Foundation has expressed excitement at the rollout of the Graphogame in Jamaica. “This initiative is in clear alignment with our mission of community-building, providing resources for children to have access to education and promoting and improving health care and other services that increase the well-being and development of Jamaica. We are eager to get it in the hands of all children because we know that education is the foundation on which they will build the rest of their lives. We are happy to play a part in ensuring that this foundation is secure,” said Diane Pollard, President, and CEO of the Issa Trust Foundation.

The Graphogame app will be available as a free-to-download application in Jamaica, on iOS, Microsoft, and Android App Stores, starting in October. The donation of the app is a continuation of the work that WWKIDS has been doing in Jamaica over the last eighteen (18) months, which includes virtual workshops for teachers in Jamaica, and the donation of devices to schools and children in need.
We need your help! Currently, we are collecting tablets and donations to use towards purchasing new tablets. Any contribution is welcomed, and on behalf of the children who will be benefitting, we thank you for your generosity!
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As schools in Jamaica closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, forcing education to go online, many students found themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to continue their studies due to the unavailability of the necessary devices. One such child was 8-year-old Trey, whose mother, Jovasha Hall, is a Bartender at Couples Negril. Trey could only share his father’s phone when he was not at work, causing him to have to almost completely abandon his schoolwork. Thanks to the “Couples Cares” tablet drive, supported by so many of our generous guests, the Issa Trust Foundation was able to donate a Samsung Tablet to Trey to assist him with the continuation of his online classes. His devoted mother, who is also an exemplary team member, expressed her gratitude for the donation and for the role of teachers, who she feels deserve a lot more credit. “The teachers deserve a gold medal. In pre-Pandemic times, kids were off to school and we as parents had no full understanding of the work entailed in their education.” Jovasha even finds herself monitoring his schoolwork during her lunch breaks at work from her phone. Thanks to all those who donated and a special thank you to all the hands-on parents like Jovasha who are ensuring that our children are able to continue their education during these difficult times.
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By Merrian J. Brooks, DO, MS

I am writing this from my new desk as the lead pediatrician and research director for the Botswana UPENN Partnership. Botswana, a country the size of the US state of Texas with a population of a little more than 2 million people is one of my global health homes. The other is Jamaica.

10 years ago I graduated from medical school and I have been reflecting on my journey in medicine. Unlike some, I didn’t always want to be a physician. I admired scientists like Mae Jamison and Marie Curie, women who changed the world with their scientific contributions.  Then, as an undergraduate student, I discovered my passion for medicine during a study abroad semester in Ghana. I was a volunteer at the University of Ghana, Legon hospital. As an undergraduate student I didn’t have any technical skills so I just got to know the hospital system and helped out where I can. I helped check people in (which was very humbling!), helped clean rooms, helped gather and organize supplies, even changing some bed pans! After doing this for a several months I spent the last few weeks shadowing one of the only specialists in the hospital at the time (2004), a pediatrician. That’s when I decided I was going to be a physician. The world needed physicians and I could also change the world   maybe not as a Nobel laureate or trailblazing astronaut, but in a smaller way, as a compassionate, committed, and quality physician for the global underserved.

So, I went to medical school at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. There I worked with a trailblazer in global public health, Dr. Mario Grijalva PhD. She is a research scientist from Ecuador who has transformed the landscape of interventions for Chagas’ Disease in his home country. I travelled to Ecuador a few times with the Tropical Disease Institute that he and other scientists at Ohio University started. I learned a lot in preparation and when in Ecuador from Dr. Grijalva and is amazing team. What has stayed with me since then, though, and what I apply today in. my work in Botswana is that partnerships are vital, instead of seeing our colleagues in the countries we work in as conduits we partner with them. We help them with the resources we have, we lean on them as leaders, we collaborate as equals. Dr. Grijalva supports the education of countless Ecuadorian students at all levels and has brought his team to the US to further their education. As a team of US and Ecuadorian professionals this group has been able to do amazing work in many areas of public health in Ecuador.

As a pediatric resident I learned about how important global health concepts can be even in certain communities in the United States. I chose a residency that was in Camden New Jersey at a hospital system that serves as a safety net for a community with high rates of poverty, insurance that limits access to pediatric subspecialists, and social scenarios like high levels of community violence or food deserts that can make it hard for children to live full healthy lives. It was during my residency that I discovered the Issa Trust Foundations rotation program. What I loved about the program was that it was being well supported by the foundation. Many pediatricians came before me and many came after me and it felt like we were providing a service that really filled a need. Instead of being a once off visit all together we were ‘the pediatrician’ in these underserved parts of Northern Jamaica. I worked with Issa Trust Foundation several more times after that providing support when in the US and going on a few of the trips to do community screening and referrals. I still remember a song a few of the young men sang for us when we were preparing for a community pop-up clinic in St. Ann’s Bay. It was called Paper Cut, and it was about how their lost love had left the sting of a ‘paper cut’ on their hearts. I loved my time there. I felt like we were making a real difference. Connecting to services for the young man with cerebral palsy, providing treatments for infections and rashes, connecting people with chronic diseases like epilepsy with specialist, and also just being an listening ear providing support and reassurance to weary parents. I remember one mother that I saw a few times in Port Maria was so happy about getting her sons asthma under control that she brought me a bag of ‘ripe banana’ as thanks. Other families would bring me flowers, homemade jewelry, and homemade cards. I know that I was a part of a larger system that does a real service for kids on Jamaica, but I also know that taking care of those patients almost always made my heart sing. On one of those trips to Jamaica I remember sitting in the lobby of Couples Towers Isle and having my first of many deep conversations with Diane Pollard. What I remember most from that conversation is that she clearly worked hard to do the best she can so serve from a place of love. She and her small but mighty team worked tirelessly to continue to elevate the foundation so that it provided needed services, supplies, and expertise to fill the needs and requests of the expert pediatricians serving children every day in Jamaica. Of all that I learned between Camden and Jamaica in serving the underserved, I will always center my work, like Diane does, in love.

After completing training in pediatrics and then adolescent medicine I decided to pursue my calling in global health full time via a David N. Pincus Foundation Global Health Fellow with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. At that time four year ago I was able to be fully immersed in the health system in Botswana and really focus on how I can contribute, collaborate, and learn from and with my colleagues in Botswana. While here I have helped to enhance an adolescent health clinic, work with the ministry of health and wellness on guidelines, set up a research project that increases access to mental health services for adolescents and young adults and teach students of all levels about pediatrics and mostly about adolescent health. Most adolescents live in lower income resource limited settings, so I feel a particular affinity to teaching and building systems that work in all kinds of settings for adolescents. It can be difficult but building something that has a chance to serve youth for years to come, is so meaningful.

Now 10 years since graduating from medical school and A LOT of growth and development later I’ve accepted a position to be the Lead Pediatrician and Research Director of the Botswana UPENN partnership. Me and my husband and daughter will be based in Botswana for the next several years. Botswana is not just a good place for me to grow but it’s a place where I can authentically contribute and collaborate. My dear friend here in Botswana told me a few days ago, “Botswana had been good to you. You came here single as a fellow no kids and now! You must continue to be grateful for the blessings”. There are so many blessings. There are the blessings of amazing local mentors, colleagues and friends from Botswana. There are the blessings of a beautiful family that is with me and the privilege of having the most wonderful family and friends mentors and colleagues in the US (and Europe and Asia) who put in the work with us to stay connected. Even as I deal with grief and waves of disappointment because of covid I still can’t help but think wow, what a beautiful life I am privileged to live.
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