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Saturday,  June 22, 2024 8:15 AM 

"Family" of travel agents attend Jam-Walk 2023 in support of school builds in Jamaica

"Family" of travel agents attend Jam-Walk 2023 in support of school builds in Jamaica
Travel advisors join the Jamaica Tourist Board at Jam-Walk 2023, a 5km walk and brunch in support of the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“During the pandemic, we created a family,” said Angella Bennett, regional director for Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). “Travel advisors have grown to not just sell Jamaica, but to also be part of our community.”

Travel pros laced up their running shoes and gathered on the Courtyard Patio of Palais Royale on Toronto’s waterfront on Saturday (May 27) to participate in this year’s Jam-Walk, which will support the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation’s (HHJF) 26th school build, Orange Bay Infant School, this summer in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Blessed with pristine weather, the sunny five-kilometre walk – now in its fourteen year – headed down the Martin Goodman Trail, along Lake Shore Blvd., to the Humber Bay Arch Bridge and back, and concluded with a brunch.

As a sponsor, the JTB rallied 33 travel advisors to join in on the fun – tripling its turnout compared to last year.  

“During the pandemic, we created a family,” said Angella Bennett, regional director for Canada at the JTB. (Pax Global Media)

“We’re extremely proud of agents for showing their love for Jamaica and for the children of Jamaica,” Bennett told PAX at the event, revealing that the JTB, with trade support, raised almost $9,000 for the HHJF (and counting, as donations are still rolling in).

The Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation was founded in 2005 by Karl Hale, who was born in Falmouth, Jamaica and lived in the country until he was 10 years old.

He started the foundation to tackle the economic disparity he saw in his native Jamaica and to help kids “who don’t have the means to make a better life,” he told PAX in a previous interview.

Over the years, HHJF has launched many initiatives in Jamaica, from scholarships to hiring teachers to support kids with learning challenges to supplying tablets to students and implementing food programs.

The foundation’s annual school builds have also left a lasting mark on communities in need.

Jam-Walk 2023 set out to raise $75,000 for this year’s build in Port Antonio this July – and it surpassed its goal, generating more than $105,000, said Natasha Borota, president and CEO of The It Factor Ltd., which manages the builds.

“It’s such a blessing,” Borota told PAX. “We’re on track every year to build a new school.”

This year’s funds will go towards building four to five classrooms, teacher and computer rooms, a sick bay (a room for accommodating and treating ill students), a kitchen for serving fresh meals, appliances, a water filtration system, a playground and a fence, Borota explained.

From left: Mark Josephs, Karl Hale, Angella Bennett, Natasha Borota, Bruce Croxon, Bruce Chin. (Pax Global Media)

It costs between $150,000 and $175,000 USD to build a school in Jamaica, she said, but it is volunteers who make it happen.

“When you go on a school build, it’s an unbelievable thing to be in the community,” Borota said. “Locals come out and paint with us, volunteers meet the students and see [the impact of] having access to education in a safe, conducive place for learning.”

“We take it for granted here in Canada – and we're blessed to be here – but if we go to these places to vacation, and enjoy their culture, their music, their food, we should also give back as they're the ones that are taking care of us when we're in their country.”

Last year, the foundation successfully completed the Bourne Gordon's Preschool and Kindergarten in Linstead, Jamaica.

Builds typically involve 25 participants and they also include opportunities to explore the destination.

Jam-Walk participants gather on the Courtyard Patio of Palais Royale along Toronto's waterfront. (Pax Global Media)

“We see waterfalls, we go rafting…there are so many things we do,” Borota said. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to give in the countries we visit.”

Canadian travel advisors were involved in last year’s build, and plans are in motion to bring another group down this year, Bennett said.

“This has been overwhelmingly received by the agent community. They've just been pouring love on Jamaica,” she said.

“The people of Jamaica have always had such a giving spirit – in their smile, in their hospitality – and you only want to feel compelled to give back. What a better way than to give to the children of Jamaica?”

From left (of the JTB): Angella Bennett, Judy Nash. (Pax Global Media)

The JTB is “proud to stand behind” the HHJF because “they give back to Jamaica in a way that has life,” Bennett explained.  

“We are giving an education to Jamaican children that will one day become part of the tourism sector. These children may be the ones that serve us in the restaurants or at the front desk at hotels. So, it connects so much because we're making sure the continuation of tourism remains alive.”

The success of HHJF relies on the support of donors and corporate sponsors, which, for Jam-Walk, included the Jamaica Tourist Board, Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen, among others. 

Travel advisors interested in participating in this summer’s school build in Port Antonio from July 3-8 are invited to contact the HHJF and visit for more information.

The HHJF will also be holding its annual gala/fundraising event, Jamrock, on Oct. 20, 2023.

Jamaica tourism update

As for the state of tourism in Jamaica, Bennett only had good news to share.

“For the Canadian numbers, we had a fantastic winter. We closed slightly ahead of 2019,” Bennett said. “The tour operators are very, very upbeat. With airlines, we have 21,000 additional seats going in for the summer.”

And while 2023-24 winter schedules are still being released, “I think we’ll replicate what we did in 2022.”

Angella Bennett, regional director for Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board. (Pax Global Media)

“Jamaica has its appeal and it's stronger than ever,” Bennett said, noting the wave of celebrities who have visited the island in recent months, from actress Tracee Ellis Ross to the Real Housewives of Atlanta to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Her message to travel advisors? “We are here to support you.”

From the sunny weather to the food to the music to the culture: “Jamaica is an easy sell,” Bennett said. “And it's something you can confidently sell to your clients.”

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