Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please!

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.

Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica
Emancipation Park on a bright Kingston day.

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.

Brandon Allwood

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.

Bustamante Children's Hospital
This is where the March on May 1 begins.

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.

Help Jamaica's Children ad
Help Jamaica's Children

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
A/C#: 803605

If you have any questions, please email us at hello@helpjachildren.org.

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?

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6 thoughts on “Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please!

    1. Thank you so much, Jack. I feel the same way. Jamaicans tend to get tired of one issue and move on to the next without getting any resolution – which is frustrating. I also feel these idealistic young people should be supported in trying to DO something… I was an idealist at that age and I think people need to just wake up and realize what we are doing to our children. Sigh. Anyway, I am going to the rally on Tuesday and will take photos…

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  1. Thanks Petchary for continuing to beat the drum on this vital issue. Nelson Mandela’s quote says it all. I’m glad you and people like Brandon are fighting to keep the issue in front of people. Good luck with a peaceful and successful rally on Tuesday.

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    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement! It is an absolutely crucial issue that we have to keep in the limelight. And I am proud of this group of young people for taking a stand, and for taking action! I am afraid we are “all talk” here in Jamaica!

      Like

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