By on December 24, 2015


‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through our house, no glittering tree was standing, no decorations hanging about. Not a creature was stirring… because we were in Jamaica, giving away our Christmas.

We landed in Montego Bay just as the sun was setting. The steamy air was 30 degrees warmer than the air we’d left behind in Canada.

Our driver and friend from our last visit to the lively Island, Roosevelt, drove us to our hotel in Negril in Westmoreland Parish, about 85 kilometres (53 miles) away. Traffic moving away from the airport through the bustling ‘Hip Strip’ into town was bumper to bumper. In addition to the chaotic congestion, I’d forgotten about the people standing in-between lanes selling their wares.

Once we cleared town, traffic was still heavy but moving steadily. The road to Negril is winding but relatively smooth. An open stretch of highway is rare as there are many villages on the way interspersed with jungle vegetation. I knew the warm Caribbean Sea was on our right, but in the dark I could only smell it.


Besides the cars, scooters, bleating motorcycles (often loaded with more than two people), buses and trucks, we were on the left-hand side of the road, always a bit disconcerting when you first arrive. Throngs of people walk nonchalantly along the road or on it, if lack of sidewalk deems it necessary. They seemingly pop out of nowhere.

I was marvelling to myself that a mere 24 hours earlier I had been driving the slick, almost frozen, back roads of Nova Scotia. Three unidentifiable walking objects were making their way in the cold along the dark roadside. Their reflective high-visibility vests, flashlights and blinking strobes helped define their shapes as human. I could see them from about two kilometres back.

A plane ride and one day later, cars and people somehow manage to safely manoeuvre in the sweltering, humid dark like a finely choreographed dance. No reflective clothing here on this mountainous, jungle-covered island.

The smell of the wood fires from roadside jerk stands wafted through the open windows making me salivate. Roosevelt pulled over for a fix of boiled corn and conch soup. Music and smoke filled the air as we stopped and stretched our legs. I love Jamaica.

This laid-back island nation sits in the heart of the Caribbean Sea, and is slightly larger than the Big Island of Hawaii. Where Hawaii has a population of 185,000 souls, Jamaica’s warm, friendly humans number 2.8 million.

As part of the launch of my husband Garry Sowerby’s new book, “Driven Mind,” this is the second launch of our seven global launches over the next 11 months in places that have significance in the book. We did the first launch in Canada’s Yukon Territory, driving from Whitehorse to Dawson City and back last month.

This time we wanted to pay homage to a couple of stories in the book that chronicle programs with school children that Garry has done.


One story, Communication Breakdown, describes a program in Turkey where Garry collaborated with Yale University and GlobaLearn, an educational non-profit company that sponsored ‘live’ expeditions all over the world to help children learn about how their counterparts live in other countries.

This was in the early days of the internet and the team drove around Turkey, then uploaded video capturing ‘a day in the life’ of children from various socioeconomic backgrounds, to a G-7 Ministerial Conference in Brussels studying the burgeoning information highway.


Another story in “Driven Mind” — “Mission to Moscow” — took place just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. On his way to Scandinavia to perform fuel economy tests in his 1988 GMC Sierra, rather than drive directly there in an empty truck, Garry detoured through the Soviet Union and smuggled a truckload of books from London, England to donate them to schools and librairies in Moscow.

This year, we asked our families to forego our annual Christmas gifts exchange for the chance to work with NEET, the Negril Education Environment Trust, a non-profit organization based in Negril, Jamaica.


Instead of buying and receiving gifts, we wanted to donate needed resources, such as digital tablets, readers and school supplies, to help NEET do its work of strengthening the social fabric of Jamaica through programs that expand educational access for children and adults.

Founded in 2003 by Mr. Winston Wellington, a former New York taxicab company owner, the work NEET does is inspirational. (Visit: for more information.)

Included in the donation are 20 copies of “Driven Mind” to libraries across the island.

We drove with Mr. Wellington and his thorough and lovely assistant, Miss Lataya Gray, to visit Sheffield All Age and Revival All Age schools and saw the librairies that NEET has built on school properties out of recycled shipping containers. We also worked at St. Anthony’s Kitchen to help serve lunch to families in need.

Our Christmas is quite different this year but, to see the enthusiastic and genuine reactions of the school children and teachers to the donations of tablets and school supplies and to witness firsthand the work that NEET does for families and communities in Jamaica, are the best Christmas gifts.

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6 Comments on “The Family Christmas Giveaway...”

  • avatar

    Giving to others is a wonderful thing…


  • avatar

    I vote we keep her. Nice job Lisa. Merry Christmas!

  • avatar

    Merry Christmas Lisa. Impressive to give the way you did. Sometimes you really do feel better when you give in a big way and to those who’s lives you are really changing. I’d like find a cold place to do it though….this is the first time I’ve ever had to run the central air on December 24. Not liking this hideous winter.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The shock you describe of going from the cold to warm sounds familiar. I’ve been on a couple mission trips to the Bahamas in February and March, leaving behind snow and cold, only to find warm, even hot weather there.

    And that left-lane driving is disconcerting, especially in transplanted left-hand-drive American vehicles.

    I applaud the long view of your work. Merry Christmas, and welcome to TTAC!

  • avatar

    The British used to handle this more remotely, as Cordelia explains to Charles in Brideshead Revisited:

    “you send five bob to some nuns in Africa and they christen a baby and name her after you. I’ve got six black Cordelias already. Isn’t it lovely ?”

  • avatar

    VERY nice to see folks doing the right thing .

    Helping others help themselves is wonderful .

    By this I mean helping to educate them , I truly think education is the key to open all doors .


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