Last night I watched an interview with a young Jamaican on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” The young man is 22-year-old Brandon Allwood, an intelligent young man who attended one of Jamaica’s top high schools, former editor of the “TeenAge” Observer magazine (where I first met him) – and since he was in his teens I know he has been a fervent advocate for children’s rights. Brandon is organizer of the upcoming March and Rally for “Help JA Children,” which will take place on Tuesday, May 1 at 12:00 noon, beginning at Bustamante Children’s Hospital and ending at Emancipation Park in Kingston.
Brandon is not one of those young people who has given up on Jamaica (I don’t mean that in a negative way – but I know many who have left, and for that I do not judge them; it is a fact of life). He is staying here, and has already set up his own marketing company, Brandon Allwood & Associates. Like all young people, he makes the most of the social media to promote both his business and the causes he believes in. Top of the list of causes has been the rights of Jamaican children.
There has been much hot air in the media over the past few weeks since the Jamaica Observer printed an interview with a doctor, who gave graphic descriptions of child abuse cases she has treated at the children’s hospital. The Jamaican public was shocked rigid. The airwaves rang with the shrill voices of horrified Jamaican citizens, who sounded as if they had no idea that this was taking place – although it is nothing new, so far as I am aware. Letters to the editor flooded in; everyone had something to say. We are talking about child sexual abuse mainly in this case, and there is incest, too. This is an issue that clearly has not been kept in the public eye – if at all – and it took a rather sensationalized report to throw it back in people’s faces. There has been the usual assumption that it is only “poor people pickney” (poor people’s children) involved – but we know this is not true, and that the middle and upper classes are also helping to prey on and deprive children of all ages of their innocence – their childhood, their ability to function as normal human beings.
Now, the issue is fading away in the public eye. The Minister responsible for youth has spoken, the Prime Minister has said that, as well all know, “Children are dear to her heart.” As many have remarked, this ongoing, everyday tragedy was destined to become another “nine day wonder,” as the outrage faded. But what is to be done? What is being done, now that the blinkers have fallen away from people’s faces? Returning to a state of semi-denial or ignorance is not really an option. How does Jamaica move forward?
Thankfully, May is Child Month in Jamaica. There will be the usual church services, speeches by public officials, supplements in the newspapers, “messages” from all the relevant government agencies. But I am hopeful that, this year, there will also be action.
On the television program, Brandon Allwood attempted to explain, in the short time allowed, the importance of advocacy – a concept not fully developed or recognized in Jamaican civil society, perhaps. In Jamaica, it depends on who is doing the advocating that matters. It’s the personality, (and certainly, whether you personally like them or not), and not necessarily the cause they are espousing, that is important. Thus, human rights advocates are maligned and indeed threatened on a regular basis by Jamaicans who seem incapable of understanding their role, and who are intent on finding some dark ulterior motive, personal vendetta or political agenda in their selfless work.
But what really concerns me in this case is: A young man and his group of supporters (he calls his PR firm the “Black Sheep” – interestingly) are not being heard. People are outraged and shocked at the issue of child sexual abuse, but they are not prepared to support him – apart from a few worthy corporate sponsors of the event, whom I applaud. Brandon spoke of government ministries and agencies refusing to come to the phone and never returning his calls, when he called them for support. He has had many rebuffs also from the private sector – who may of course be strapped for cash in these difficult times but have mostly given him a flat “no” to his modest requests for sponsorship. Government agencies have not waived or reduced fees and permits for him to hold the rally, which is in the interest of Jamaica’s children.
Let’s face it. The voices of young people are not being heard. Politicians pay lip service,but if you were to ask them what the three major issues are for the Jamaican youth of 2012, or what their views in general might be on a particular issue, they would hesitate. You see, they are not listening. Jamaica is for the grown-ups, those who have it all, for them to enjoy. When did you last see a meaningful discussion, a debate between young people and those “in power”? Are young people being “mainstreamed” into Jamaican public life? It’s a popular catchphrase, but I don’t see much evidence of it.
Is it that the comfortable, influential ones, those “in power,” the adults who are enjoying life, really don’t want to be disturbed by young people, who will question all the things that they, the adults, hold dear (and close to their chests)? Especially young people who are not “connected” with the right people (political or socially), or who are not members of an influential family – so-and-so’s son or daughter. I am not speaking about Brandon and his group of supporters, necessarily – and of course not all Jamaican adults fall into this uncaring category. There are many who do, indeed, listen. But perhaps not enough.
What I do know is that Brandon, Jaevion Nelson and others like him, are bright, sincere, and care about the future of their country. They have what is called a social conscience.
Brandon and his “Black Sheep” are passionate (as I was at their age), eloquent and strong advocates for the marginalized, the ignored and the neglected. They abhor injustice. They love their country. They are not “fat cats.” I posted a link to Jaevion’s co-authored op-ed below for you to read, if you have not done so already – it is focused, hard-hitting and resonates loud and clear.
I think Jamaica’s youth advocates – and its troubled and abused children – deserve support. Do what you can.
For more on Help JA Children, see their Facebook page or tweet them @HelpJAChildren. Help JA Children are: Brandon Allwood, Candiese Leveridge, Jaevion Nelson, K. Dominic McKenzie, Lonique Chin and Ricardo Brooks.
This is what they say on their Facebook page:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
Please support Help JA Children as we seek to raise the profile of our nation’s children and highlight the dire reality that too many of them face.
Our organisation NEEDS your help to make sure our march and rally on May 1, 2012 happens.
The fight to protect our nations children is one which involves all of us. PLEASE make a donation to Help JA Children today.
Our account was opened with the gracious help of Scotiabank, and ALL donations will go DIRECTLY to funding the costs of hosting the march and rally as well as the future work of Help JA Children. Below are the details of the account.
Name: Help JA Children
Branch: New Kingston
If you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com.
You can also keep up-to-date with Help JA Children news by following us on Twitter (@HelpJAChildren) and liking us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/HelpJAChildren).
The time has come for us to call Jamaicans to action in the fight to keep our children safe.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
What kind of soul do we have?
- Help Ja Children campaign- i know you may be skeptical but just listen (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Listening to young people – Innovation, creativity and engagement (icecreates.com)
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://mim.io/4adb82 Play Your Part (HelpJAChildren theme tune)
A recent online conversation sparked a distant and dark memory, from childhood (and no one’s childhood is all sweetness and light, even if we would like to believe so). This is my memory, as accurately as I can tell it.
I was about eight years old, living in a group of old-fashioned apartments in south-west London. I was an awkward child, somewhat withdrawn. My family called me a “bookworm.” But I had a lovely friend, Maria, who lived in a nearby apartment. Maria was a couple of years older than me, slender, dark and with a serious air. And she was having dancing lessons, something that was not a possibility for me (I was too plump, nor could my parents afford it). Maria impressed me (although looking back on it, ours was a somewhat unbalanced relationship – I was the follower). She was well brought up, and her home was quiet and orderly. We spent hours reading her books on ballet dancing, gazing at the silky black and white photos of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. I loved visiting Maria when she came back from school.
One weekend Maria’s mother took us for a picnic on Wimbledon Common. I suppose it must have been summer, because the Common was a bleak and windswept place otherwise, for diehard runners and dog-walkers only. We dutifully ate our lunch (probably boiled eggs, pork pie and sandwiches and lemonade) and then decided that sitting with Maria’s mother and her friend was not the most exciting way to spend the afternoon. There was a huddle of dry bushes nearby, with a cosy hollow in the middle created by many children and probably homeless people too. It was within earshot of Maria’s mother, but not too close. We retreated there and quickly became absorbed in our own world, chatting, gossiping, dreaming and yes, playing – as girls of that age do.
Before we disappeared into the bush, Maria’s mother (very wisely as it turned out) enjoined us very seriously to call out to her from time to time, so that she knew we were OK. We said we would.
We did so a couple of times. And then, after a while, we realized we were not alone. Squatting in the hollowed-out space between the bushes, we looked up to see a man, smiling at us. He seemed to appear suddenly. I will always remember looking up, and thinking how tall he was. He started talking to us about going to his house to look at some photographs. And maybe taking some photographs. Wouldn’t we like that? He had a very good camera.
I felt confused. Although he was smiling, I could feel a strangeness in the air, something out of joint. And Maria looked uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure why. I engaged the man in conversation, and replied politely to him, as I was brought up to do. I remember he was wearing a red scarf knotted at his neck, which reminded me of a cowboy (as well as ballet dancers, I was rather obsessed with cowboys in those days). But Maria (rather rudely I thought) would not answer and started to move away from him, tugging at my hand. We have to go now, she said.
Then Maria stood up and shouted, “Mummy, we are here!” and at the same time stepped away from our hiding place and waved furiously. Her mother got up. I looked around, and saw the man walking away from us, as fast as he could. He was leaning forward, and his little red scarf blew in the wind.
The afternoon seemed to dissolve at this point. From the hurried conversation between Maria, her mother and her friend, I realized that something had gone badly wrong, and that it had something to do with the man. The picnic basket was packed, the rug was rolled up and we left the Common in anxious haste.
The story of the man was told to my parents, who reacted with fear and horror. I had, by this time, learned that the man was a “bad man,” that I shouldn’t have spoken to him, and that I should have just run away. Thank God, Maria was older and more sensible. I remember my father standing with the telephone in his hand, on the line to the police, firing questions at me about what he looked like. Tall. Reddish hair. Red scarf round his neck. The last item seemed to upset my father particularly.
From that day on, I was afraid to go anywhere near Wimbledon Common. No more picnics. In fact, as I grew up in London, I naturally avoided the place. It was, in my imagination, filled with predators, waiting to pounce on men, women and children in equal measure, their minds disturbed and twisted.
Children are fragile. I remember my lack of understanding, my confusion. Nowadays, perhaps, children are more “street smart” – but does that make them any less vulnerable? Perhaps not. I was, I think, unusually naive, even for an eight-year-old. I had a fairly sheltered childhood. But I am thankful that Maria was older than me, and that she recognized the warning signs. And that her mother, with her request for us to keep calling out to her as we played, was not only cautious, but wise. She wanted us to be free, but she also wanted protective mechanisms in place.
Where are those protective mechanisms in Jamaica? Where are the guidelines? Where are the warnings and advice, from teachers, from the police, from caregivers, from family members and especially parents? Can we really shrug our shoulders at the fact that over 500 children who went missing last year are still missing this year? Are children’s lives worth so little?
So, while the grown-ups continue to talk about whether we should give up the Queen; whether homosexuals are condemned to eternal damnation; whether this or that politician is suitable for his new post in the Cabinet; whether Vybz Kartel is going to be found guilty of murder; and who’s hot and who’s not on the social scene… The children are out there. Once innocent, now lost.
A friend of mine who shares my concerns sent this list of guidelines. I hope that you, my faithful readers, will share this blog and this list, especially with mothers and fathers. And by the way, teens are children too. They may look like small Barbie Dolls and miniature deejays, but they are still children.
So here is the list.
STEPS FOR PARENTS TO TAKE TO PREVENT CHILD ABDUCTION:
- Teach children to beware of strangers promising gifts, sweets, treats or money.
- Pick them up from school or the bus stop when possible.
- Encourage them to walk in groups.
- Have them play in the backyard when possible.
- Limit use of names on bags and books where they can be seen..
- Install a home security system (if you can afford it).
- Get dogs – to my mind, one of the very best security systems of all.
- Report any suspicious-looking person to the police.
- Never leave children alone in a car or stroller.
- Never leave a child or baby with a stranger.
- Let your children feel safe to tell you anything.
- Teach them to ask permission to leave the home or yard.
STEPS FOR CHILDREN TO TAKE TO PREVENT ABDUCTION:
- Children should keep a safe distance from strangers and their cars.
- They should not talk to male or female strangers.
- Children should try to walk in groups.
- They need to learn important phone numbers and addresses.
- Children should scream and run if a stranger touches them inappropriately.
- They should be cautious around parked cars with someone sitting inside.
- Where are they now? Jamaica’s missing children
- Greece so poor families are abandoning their children (mirror.co.uk)
- Maria Guadalupe : Mexico (kiva.org)