Jamaica Gleaner / “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
The words of Desmond Tutu, rings true for 31 year old Ayesha Allen, president of the Gift of Love Ja. who believes that championing the cause of those in need and starting a charity to fulfil it is a part of God’s plan for her life.
Blessed with an infectious smile and warm personality, Allen admits that starting a charity, aimed at changing the lives of hundreds of children and helping families who have experienced various forms of tragedy was never a part of her plan – but instead is God’s way of using her to make a difference in other people’s lives and infecting their lives with some happiness.
Unlike typical children, Allen grew up interacting mostly with adults from all walks of life on the political campaign trail, as her single-parent mother, Karen “Dawn” HoYoung,” worked in the Office of the Prime Minister. This took her to various work-related events across the island. It was these early experiences that helped to shape Allen’s love for people and develop a spirit of giving.
Giving came natural to Allen because of the examples set by her mother and late grandmother, Marie Wray. “I grew up seeing my mother giving to those around her – whether it was gifts or toys for children of staff members or other persons who she knew was in need. She would give from her own resources or resources she had access to. She was just always giving and treated everyone as her equal.” It, therefore, came as no surprise that Allen walked in her footsteps. “I recall a parent thanking my mother when I was in about grade two or three at Mona Prep for the beautiful dress I had given her daughter.” Chuckling she added, “I hadn’t asked my mother if I could have given away one of my dresses, but I just gave my classmate the dress because she needed a nice one and I had several, and that is just what I saw my mother do.”
Getting Started …
Although she has always been charitable, she admitted, “I have never done so through any formal organisation like a service club, but typically supported individual projects or small groups where I saw a need. It was during my early adult years that I would organise clothes drives with my family and friends to give to children’s homes and other similar initiatives.”
In 2008, following Hurricane Gustav, Allen convinced her friends – Jodie-Kay Kerr and Courtney Palmer – to support persons with food items, in St Thomas which had been devastated. In search of persons to assist, they met the Spencers, an elderly couple who took care of other relatives’ children and had been severely affected by the hurricane, which left them almost homeless.
Driven by a desire to extend the reach of her resources, she took the advice of her now husband, Raamar Allen, to formalise her passion for giving into a charity. In 2016, the charity became official and was registered under the name, GOL Foundation Jamaica Limited.
Fast forward a year later, she has transformed her ad hoc giving into a charity, which has continued to transform the lives of others. The most recent recipients of the Gift of Love are over 200 children from Baxter Mountain Primary in St Mary; Sturge Town Primary and Clapham Primary in St Ann of school supplies for this new school year.
Allen explained, “An emphasis is placed on rural Jamaica because we find that this group often receives less support compared to Corporate Area residents.” The charity focuses mainly on children and families in need, most of whom have been affected by some form of disaster.
Always seeking opportunities to make a difference, Ayesha was also behind the initiative – “Be the Light”, a corporate social responsibility project with JPS assisting individuals in need. “It started in a bid to reposition the JPS brand and show a more human side of the brand,” she explained. The successes achieved from the 2016 initiative has prompted the power company to continue supporting it, with a back-to-school surprise held at the end of August. While also working at telecom giant, Digicel, Allen also started a blog dubbed, ‘Extraordinary Jamaicans’, that showcases ordinary Jamaicans making extraordinary strides, in spite of their various challenges.
She admits that these projects have been rewarding career experiences, but also sees them as a part of God’s purpose for her life.
Challenging Yet Rewarding …
But Allen notes that what she does is not without its challenges. “It can be emotionally draining and individuals will not always appreciate your genuine care nor generosity of heart. You have to still give and remember that you can’t give to everybody, knowing that it is better to help a few than none at all.”
Her journey has also helped to strengthen her Christian conviction. “The wonderful thing about this experience is that we always exceed the target we set for ourselves to give – God always seems to provide a way to ensure that we have enough to give to those in need.”
In challenging other young persons to make a difference in their circle of influence, Allen said, “It doesn’t take much to give, find opportunities and give in the moment – buy some extra food, or share what you have. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be well-thought out or (well) executed; it doesn’t have to be anything major, just do it – give.”