Etta Khwaja Obituary | Education

Like many members of the Windrush generation, my mother, Etta Khwaja, who died aged 88, went to Britain to train as a nurse. She became a lifelong assistant manager and community leader in Haringey, north London.

Born in Lititz in the parish of St Elizabeth, Jamaica, to Vera (née Stephenson) and William Parchment, both smallholder farmers, Etta left home in 1954 aged 20 and in London met and married , in 1955, Wazir Khwaja. Etta first worked as a nurse, and she and her husband later had eight children.

In 1971, Wazir suffered a stroke, which rendered him permanently disabled and unable to work. As a main breadwinner, Etta held jobs at various Haringey schools in North London, first as a playground supervisor and as a teaching assistant. She then trained as a teacher at the College of All Saints, Tottenham (which merged with Middlesex Polytechnic), and began teaching in 1979. From 1986 until her retirement in 1998, she was assistant head of the Lordship Lane Primary School in Tottenham.

Etta has made a significant contribution to race equality in Haringey for many years and was the leader of the Haringey Race Equality Council. As one of her NUT colleagues put it, “She constantly challenged the tyranny, racism and short-sighted ideas so often imposed on schools. She was a strong advocate of the multicultural approach to education long before it became the norm in Haringey. She had a major influence on Haringey Council and all the schools in Haringey, not just her own.

Etta was the first woman to be elected President of the West Indian Leadership Council and was instrumental in establishing the West Indian Cultural Centre, in Wood Green, which was opened by MP Bernie Grant in 1987. She was Head of Education for the Association of Jamaicans (UK) Trust and Vice President of the Caribbean Teachers’ Association.

Etta Khwaja with Bernie Grant, MP for Tottenham, at the opening of the West Indian Cultural Centre, Wood Green, November 1987.
Etta Khwaja with Bernie Grant, MP for Tottenham, at the opening of the West Indian Cultural Centre, Wood Green, November 1987. Photograph: Bernie Grant Archive / Sharon Grant

In 1991 Etta began sending books and teaching resources to schools in St Elizabeth. But she also wanted to create a public library there. Etta successfully petitioned bauxite mining company Alpart for a site and building and provided £5,000. The library opened in Nain in 1997 with a collection named after her mother.

She pursued her interest in health issues, through her work with the Patient and Public Involvement in Health forum for Haringey. She prepared a paper to discuss the health and safety of workers in bauxite mining companies, which was presented at the Jamaican Diaspora Conference held in Jamaica by the delegate sponsored by the Association of Jamaicans (UK) Trust . Whatever her involvement, Etta has worked tirelessly to advance education and health opportunities and working conditions for others, both in the UK and at home in Jamaica.

As secretary of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association from 1998 to 2005, Etta helped commission a statue of Mary Seacole for St Thomas’ Hospital in London, which was unveiled in 2016.

Wazir died in 1988. Etta is survived by six of her children, Elaine, Barbara, John, Diana, Peter and me. Two children, James and Brenda, predeceased her.

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