German-born Nishan Mayer has lived in diverse places. She has demonstrated that she has no fear of upping sticks and moving to a new country. She’s been doing that since she was 16. Nishan has lived in Morocco, France, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Belize, Russia, India and Jamaica.
For all her globe–trotting, it is this little rock that appears to hold the greatest allure for free-spirited Nishan, artist, educator, world traveler and holistic health professional. She is now awaiting her Jamaican citizenship.
If someone tells you they are in Boston, Portland, for authentic jerk pork, believe. It is what has placed Boston on the culinary map of the world. However, while jerk is an enticement for many, the lushness of Portland is also a huge magnet for scores of people who love to bask in the green glory that epitomizes this most eco-conscious parish in Jamaica.
Nishan has lived in Portland since 2006, and no, she didn’t go there for the jerk pork. “Jamaica for me has been a place of peace and freedom,” she explains.
The studio where she becomes immersed in her art, is a short dash from the inviting waters of the Caribbean Sea. She has come to embrace the community, particularly the children, for whom she founded the Boston Beach Culture Centre (BBCC). She saw a need and decided to step up and step in to enrich their lives by adding purpose.
The stated mission of BBCC is to improve self-confidence though empowering training and workshops. The mission is also geared to develop the intellectual and social potential of citizens of the community so they may become more socially responsible.
Nishan continued: “We help the children to explore their own potential instead of having them remotely controlled by their phones which exposes them to discriminating and disrespectful music and video games.”
The centre caters for youth ages 6-15, it is usually opened from 3 p.m to 8 p.m. when school is in session and during the holidays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additionally, there are monthly workshops with guest teachers, as well as weekend sessions, summer and winter retreats.
The mother of two sons, was born in the wooded Saarbrucken area close to the French border. For a time, she lived with her grandmother and developed her love of art from seemingly mundane moments in the woods.
She credits her father for stoking the fire of creativity in her as a child. He discouraged her and her brother from buying presents for Christmas and birthdays gifts, instead he encouraged them to make practical stuff which would be more meaningful.
Following that sage advice from daddy who was a lecturer at the University of Munich, she made a box for her mother to organize her notes and papers. “My dad taught us how to measure and we cut the ply board with a hand-saw. For decoration, we drew our own suns and other patterns on thinner ply
board and cut them out with a finer hand-saw and after painting them we glued them onto the box. This birthday present was in use in my mother’s kitchen for as long as I can remember.”
Having lived in First World countries where things tend to be predictable, and less bureaucratic, Nishan is simply content to, “go with the flow and trust that things will turn out alright,” in her adopted home of Jamaica.
Her focus is on the 20 or so children who attend the centre. They are taken down creative paths such as costume construction, drama, dance, jewellery-making, gardening and music. Activities at the centre ensure that children are occupied, whether they are drumming or skating at the Boston BMX Skate Park or beautifying garbage bins or planting vegetables, their days and weekends are full.
Children are provided lunch and given materials as required. Beyond that, those with special needs are given help. BBCC is filling the education gap for these rural children by helping with homework and now during covid-19, as more schools turn to online classes, assisting those who lack digital access.
All of this is largely financed from her savings, Nishan says she occasionally receives donations from a local bakery or market vendors who may offer “a sweet, dry pumpkin” or other vegetables and provisions.
Sometimes donations come from unexpected sources. “One Port Antonio market lady and friend Joan, is a hardworking grandma, who is in the States now. She called me out of the blue yesterday and said she was sending me US$50 to help with the children. I was so touched, I started crying.”
A blend of Locals and International Volunteers
It is quite a task to deliver a nurturing and safe environment to young ones. Nishan says her goodwill helpers from the community blend seamlessly with volunteers from countries such as Italy, Israel, Holland and Australia who come to Jamaica under the auspices of the work-away programme, which allows them to travel and garner experience in their desired fields of interest.
“Our drama teacher Allessia from Rome was impressed that after five days with the children they were able to put together dramatic pieces, something which would have taken her half a year in Italy.”
And it’s not just the children, adults get to participate in the drama social intervention evening workshop.
Part of being a teenage involves self-discovery and inevitable conflict. Teens often require counselling on tough topics such as sexuality, and coming of age, which may not necessarily be tackled at home. At BBCC the emotional well-being of the children is important and they are given counselling. Sometimes the counselling is extended to the homes to assist the adults in working through difficult inter-personal issues.
There are times when Nishan gets frustrated. This happens when her charges are not focused and are not producing the expected results. But that mood changes like the weather. By next day she will have a rewarding moment -like a child mastering a difficult concept, or another learning to read. When there is progress, when she sees the joy in the little faces, she remembers exactly why she has invested so much time and energy into what she describes as a social experiment. “Those are moments when I say ‘yes I am in the right place’.
The soon-to-be Jamaican with a social spirit, loves run down, a Jamaican specialty and prides herself on being able to prepare this dish. She also loves ackee and traditional chocolate tea. She is impressed with the array of natural foods that are available to her in Jamaica.
Nishan is gradually becoming a cornerstone of her adopted community. Her warmth and compassion have touched many lives and we suspect will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the children who have benefited will go out into the world and pay it forward.