Lexington group boosts education in Jamaica

John and Vivian Nash, owners of The Nash Academy of Animal Arts, a dog-grooming school in Lexington, have a home in Brighton, Jamaica, and have visited the small village in St. Elizabeth parish for 25 years.

They grew to love the Jamaican people and to hate the poverty that ensnared one generation after another.

So, John Nash decided to raise funds to build a community center and pre-school in the rural community. A good, affordable education, after all, can help people bypass hopelessness.

"We've helped young people get educations, helped send them to college or to get other types of education so that they could better themselves," Vivian Nash wrote via e-mail, "but our efforts always felt like a tiny drop in a very large bucket. We wanted to do more, and to help in a widespread way, that would lift the entire area out of the morass of poverty and illiteracy."

She and her husband thought the best way to lift an entire region out of poverty would be to make it financially self-sufficient, an undertaking that would require more than a community center and pre-school, but that was all the couple could manage.

That was before Nathan Cryder, one of the founders and executive director of Global Gain, entered the picture. Global Gain is a Lexington-based non-profit that works locally and internationally.

In the past two months, with Cryder's help, the Nashes have made plans to enlarge their dream into the Nash Brighton Project, which would include a microfinance model.

Microfinancing provides loans to those too poor to qualify for bank loans. Small amounts, at low interest rates, enable the poor to become entrepreneurs. Cryder's vision is to make Brighton a self-sustaining tourist destination.

Muhammad Yunus, a banker and economist, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering such efforts through his bank, Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh as far back as 1976.

Families in Jamaica could use the loans to start businesses that flourish in the tourist industry, Cryder said.

How much money is needed won't be known until the Jamaican families submit loan proposals. But loans could also focus on improving farm production, or something simpler such as a sewing machine for a tailor shop.

Cryder sees it as a community-to-community effort.

"It would be like adopt-a-family, or a Sister City program. We only need about 10 people in Lexington to adopt those families in Brighton," he said.

Through video connections and visits, families here could meet, advise and support families in Brighton. Their visits could be half vacation and half hands-on help for projects. Vivian Nash said the average family lives in a small, wooden shack with several people sleeping in a room. With more personal money, the residents would be able to afford to put their children in private schools and send them to college.

Cryder said the loans would stymie any possibility of creating dependency and that he doesn't anticipate any trouble working with the Jamaican government.

Although the concept of the Nash Brighton Project has expanded, education is still the goal. The plan is to add a grade to the pre-school each year.

Cryder became involved in a roundabout way.

Through twists and turns and divine intervention, the Cryders vacationed at the Nash home in Jamaica.

Before they went, John Nash asked the Cryders to check out the progress of the community center.

Cryder took one look at the area and decided to push Nash's dream into the realm of a reality.

"International development is my passion," Cryder said. Although Jesus said the poor will always be with us, this project is one effort to ensure the number of poor will at least be smaller.

"Extreme poverty can be like a trap," Vivian Nash wrote. "Many people in Brighton feel stuck. But self-sufficiency is about freedom of choice, and we want the people of Brighton to have the same kinds of choices we have in the U.S."

To give the project a good start, Cryder has organized "Spirits of Giving," a fund-raiser at Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St., on Sept. 29.

And that's fine by John Nash, who watched the fruition of his dream be slowed by a demanding disease.

Just as things appeared to be falling into place to make the center happen, John Nash was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Doctors advised against traveling so far from home.

"It hasn't been easy, but Johnnie is a fighter," Vivian Nash wrote from her home in Lexington, where she is caring for her husband, "and The Nash Brighton Project has given Johnnie another reason to hang on and fight this thing. He is extremely excited about it."