Paula Cousins ’17 and Anesu Gamanya ’17 led a renovation project funded by the Davis Projects for Peace program that dramatically transformed a small Jamaican primary school 2,000 miles from Grinnell.
“This experience reinforced why I came to Grinnell — social justice,” Gamanya says. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I witnessed social injustice everywhere and sometimes experienced it, and I thought I did not have the power to fight it. This project gave me an opportunity to help alleviate the social injustice in another community.”
The third-year economics majors share a strong desire to help others.
When Cousins heard about the dire conditions of the Bottom Halse Hall Basic School in Clarendon, Jamaica, it nagged at her. She wondered how the serious sanitation problems, cracked floors, broken toilets, and cramped classrooms affected the educational experiences of the school’s 60 children who range in ages from 2 to 5.
“I did not think it was a suitable learning environment,” says Cousins, who grew up in the nearby Hayes community. “It was not conducive to learning.”
Other problems dogged the school, which is in an economically disadvantaged area. It had limited storage, outdated technology and equipment, and other issues.
So Cousins and Gamanya, who spent winter break 2014–15 together in Jamaica, developed a proposal to help the school and received a $10,000 award from the Davis Projects for Peace. The program invites undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to develop grass-roots projects students implement during the summer.
Cousins’ parents and others in the small community rallied around the summer renovation plans.
“I don’t think you can quantify how much it helped the children to have a better learning environment,” says Cousins, who also has a concentration in global development studies.
Renovating a school is hard work, the duo found. The crews—some paid workers, others volunteers—worked on weekends and after school. Despite some minor building setbacks, they saw the 10-week project through, installing new
- a water tank
- community resource room with computers and the Internet
- shelves and desks
- a sick bay
“The floors were really impressive,” Cousins says. “I’m really, really, proud. I’ve very grateful to the people in the community.”
The project earned praise from school employees and the community. Cousins says the renovation work could eventually make the school eligible for government aid.
She hopes more Grinnell students apply for the Davis program and really think about how their projects could benefit others.
“Find a project you’re invested in,” Cousins says. “Try to do something that will affect the most people in the most meaningful way.”
Working on the project changed Gamanya.
"I also learned that not only can I learn to identify social injustice, I can find ways to address it,” she says.
Paula Cousins ’17 is from Hayes, Clarendon, Jamaica. She is an economics major, with a concentration in global development studies. Anesu Gamanya ’17 is from Harare, Zimbabwe. She is an economics major.