Jamaica and Spain have enjoyed constructive, engaged and mutually supportive relations for many years.Diplomatic relations were formally established in 1966, four years after Jamaica’s Independence on August 6, 1962.In more recent times, Jamaica has benefitted immensely through significant investments by Spanish investors and philanthropic efforts of the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation (SJF).The Foundation has been in existence since 2006 and seeks to foster partnerships between Spain and Jamaica through educational, cultural, environmental and community development initiatives.Since its inception, it has made support for the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language, a priority.The Foundation has collaborated with the Ministry of Education on a number of initiatives, including the awarding of $2.5 million in scholarships for students studying to become teachers of Spanish.Ambassador of Spain to Jamaica and President of the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation, Her Excellency Celsa Nuño, tells JIS News that Spanish as language is a tool for economic empowerment for the youth of Jamaica.“Jamaica is in a privileged geographic location to take advantage of the markets that are offered by the 375 million people that live in this part of the world,” Mrs Nuño says.Recently, 50 full scholarships valued at $237,500 were awarded to Jamaican teachers of Spanish by the Embassy of Spain and the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation.The award of $4,750 each, will enable the teachers to participate in a one-year Virtual Spanish Classroom (Aula Virtual de Español) programme and will receive internationally accredited certification upon completion.“That joins another 50 scholarships which we handed over to teachers of the six teachers’ colleges to help them pursue their studies,” Mrs. Nuño states.Six students from the University of Technology’s School of Hospitality also benefited from a scholarship valued at over $300,000.In its support for children and families with special needs, the Foundation presented a cheque for $4.5million to outfit classrooms at Montego Bay’s mixed Ability School, NAZ Children’s Centre. Learning materials valued at $500,000 were also donated to the Promise Learning Centre, the Jamaica Society for the Blind and the Salvation Army School for the Visually Impaired.Come October 2013, a Jamaican teacher of Spanish will be awarded the title of ‘Spanish Teacher of the Year’. This initiative seeks to recognise and celebrate achievements in, and commitment to, the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language.The award will be presented during the Embassy of Spain’s National Day Celebrations in October 2013.Mrs. Nuño explains that the Spanish Teacher of the Year will be decided on the basis of his/her performance in that subject.In terms of cultural awareness, the Foundation also played a part in the restoration of the Seville Great House and Museum in St. Ann, which will be officially re-opened on July 12.Operations Manager at the Seville Great House and Heritage Park, Claudette Anderson, tells JIS News that the refurbishing work, which started in 2010, was completed in November 2012.“It (refurbishing) was very extensive. We replaced all of the roof and the flooring. We installed air-condition units, which were never there before, and installed fans. With the help of the Spanish Foundation, we did a whole new state- of-the-art exhibition, which includes DVDs that show simulations of what the property looked like when the house was first built,” she says.The restoration was also made possible through the efforts of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the CHASE Fund.In terms of its contribution to sports development, some 50 children in Hanover, aged 5 to 6, are now taking tennis lessons as part of their Physical Education classes.This is being made possible through the recently launched Early Childhood Tennis Programme, in conjunction with Tennis Jamaica.Mrs. Nuño notes that this programme will continue through the next academic year as a pilot programme.“This new partnership with Tennis Jamaica is a natural progression, because although Spain is known primarily as a footballing powerhouse, it is also highly respected and well recognized as a tennis destination,” she states.The programme will teach the sport to close to 50 four and five year-old students of the Tryall Fund’s ‘Success by Six’ schools in the parish.Valued at close to $1 million annually, the programme will use the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ‘Play & Stay’method designed especially for young children to maximize the many benefits for this age group, which include: brain development, self-esteem, hand/eye co-ordination, concentration, self-control and social interaction.Meanwhile, the Spanish Embassy is playing its part in the development the agricultural sector in Jamaica, with the donation of two state-of-the-art green houses.Mrs. Nuño says it is hoped that the green houses, which have been constructed in Elim, St. Elizabeth and Coleyville, Manchester, will be handed over in July.In terms of the tourism sector, Spanish investors have invested over US$1.7 billion in the industry. Mrs. Nuño states that about 25 per cent of the rooms built in Jamaica are of Spanish investments.“The companies have not ceased to grow since they established themselves here. Last year we saw Bahia Principe building another 80 rooms to its hotel and are now close to a 1,000 rooms. We will see, before the end of the year, RIU (Hotel) opening a new hotel in Montego Bay, where they already have one,” the Ambassador informs.Last November, RIU commenced construction of a 238-room hotel at Mahoe Bay in Montego Bay, which will be opened for the 2013/14 winter season.The RIU development is an investment of over $4 billion or US$43 million, and will represent RIU’s high-end brand of suites.Additionally, global hotel operators, Meliá Hotels International, have entered into an agreement with the National Insurance Fund (NHF), to manage the resort property at Braco. The hotel’s 226 rooms are slated to undergo major renovation in the coming months.“We have got Palladium looking at phase two if certain conditions are given, so definitely there is always movement, as companies are looking at possibilities. The service sector in Spain is very strong, even though Spain is going through economic difficulties as well,” the Ambassador says.Mrs. Nuño argues that the impact of Spanish investments in Jamaica has been transformational and considerable in a short period of time, in a key sector for the growth of the country.“I am very pleased that I can say with confidence that Spanish companies play their part in brand Jamaica and are very much part of the Jamaican experience. They are very Jamaican, they promote Jamaican products and culture within their companies, because they know that is what the tourists come and look for, while at the same time keeping the spirit of the Spanish component of this industry,” she adds.Another notable gesture included the Queen Sofia of Spain Women’s Centre, in Spanish Town, which was officially opened by Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, in July last year.Its construction and equipment, valued at over $37 million (338,000 Euros), have been donated by the Government of Spain, through the Spanish Agency for International Development Co-operation.By: Latonya Linton, a priority.