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What Can We Do About Street Children?

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I have always subscribed to the philosophy that “like attracts like.” In other words, focusing on the negatives of life — or, in this case, the country — tends to (in my opinion) exacerbate the situation, especially since there usually is no effort made to stem or remedy the concerns. As such, I’ve always chosen to focus on the positives of Jamaica and on the things that make life enjoyable rather than highlighting and dwelling on the unpleasant circumstances.

The harsh reality, however, is that those unfavourable situations do exist, with or without our focusing on it. From the ever-increasing murder rate to the sliding dollar, there are many things that affect each of us directly or indirectly.

My biggest concern to date lies with the growing number of street children and the conditions to which those wards of the state are subjected.

In the Sunday Gleaner on Oct. 13, there were several articles addressing the poor living conditions of many of our youth across the island.

The headline itself highlighted the troubling conditions that teachers and students of Denham Town Primary face on a daily basis. From the rapid gunfire to the terrifying incidents that may take place in and around the school, the teachers and students have developed an alarm system similar to that of a fire drill, which is used in the case of an outbreak of violence in the area. This, in any case, is an excellent response to the constant threat of violence within that community.

Then there was the “feel good” article featuring Jamaica’s sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce lending an ear, her vocal prowess and some of her time to the girls of Homestead Place of Safety.

Homestead Place of Safety was once a boys’ home, but in 2004 it was renovated and upgraded into a home for troubled girls between the ages of 12 and 18. Fraser-Pryce’s presence at the homes must have been an awesome and enlightening experience for the girls as she shared some of her experiences as a young girl growing up in impoverished conditions.

“At the end of the day, your circumstance doesn’t define you. Not because you were born in a poor situation and experienced really rough times, it doesn’t mean that is the end for you.” — Fraser-Pryce

I then came across an article entitled “Living at risk in St. James – Scores of young men are fodder for human traffickers and predators.” The St. James Parish Development Committee recognizes the need for structural societal change that would address the issues facing the multitude of street children and placed specific interest in the homeless street boys. These homeless boys are subject to human trafficking, child labour, behavioural problems and various health risks, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“These unaccounted-for street children have created a resource pool where criminal elements and gangs can recruit youth for illicit activities such as child prostitution, robbery, drug trafficking, and keep and care of guns.” — St. James PDC

According to O’Dave Allen, the head of the Community Organization for Management and Sustainable Development, “we now have street children sleeping in the People’s Arcade, in the markets and at the Dump-up Beach; also at the back of Bay West Plaza.”

This report was based on the street children situation in St. James. Can you even imagine what the circumstances would be if they did similar research into Kingston’s street children?

We see them everywhere: riding the back of buses, at the parks, in Half-Way-Tree, Cross Roads, New Kingston.

There are street children everywhere.

In light of the growing number of street children, I have to ask, where are the mothers? But I’ve also come to the realization that any answer to that question will not solve this growing concern.

These three articles suggest that someone “out there” is making the public aware of our street children issue and highlighting what others are doing. Which then begs the question:

What can WE do?

Here are a few things you and I can do to play our part in bettering the living conditions of our street children (because, let’s face it, they are our children now):

Donate

When was the last time you went through your closet? Even if you did that last month, there are still some pieces of clothing that you and I both know you are not going to wear. So why not give it to someone who will wear it? If you have children of your own, you will also find a couple articles of clothing that can be donated.

Not sure where to donate? You can always drop them off at the Salvation Army, but if you are brave enough, you can give it directly to a child you see around the place.

Give, and it will come back to you.

Buy Lunch

I don’t advocate giving any street person money, especially the children. They may be addicted to some drug and will use said money for such things; they may be robbed by their bigger peers; they may even gamble it away, as I have seen with my own eyes after giving a young boy the last of my money one night.

But what you can do is offer to buy them lunch, and it doesn’t have to be a big three-course meal. A patty, coco bread and bottle of water can go a long way for someone who’s not sure where his next meal is coming from.

Volunteer

The biggest contribution that one can make is of one’s own time. There are a lot of children’s homes around the city, and I’m sure they could use your help in some way. There are even service clubs like the Kiwanis Club whose objective is to improve the overall conditions of our youth through service.

I know these may not be enough to put a dent in the growing trend of street children, but we have to make an effort to help and do what we can with what we have.

What other suggestion can you offer? I’m all ears!

Char Lesie

2 Comments

  1. These children are from dysfunctional homes and are easy pickings for the criminal underworld. Our state run agencies can hardly provide the support (alone) that is required to meet the needs of this marginalized group. One way to re-engage is to have state and private sector support for programs that re-acculturate these children. Education, health and wellness as well as enterprise and social inclusion should be pursued. Who would we prefer to school these children, the criminals or those who would want to preserve the values of our society?

    The Army is underutilized and should be a seen as a powerful resource to instill discipline. What about providing a rigorous partnership to with private sector to offer academic programs geared specifically towards our youths. Couple that approach with the contributions of private sector companies, local and investors. Develop the strategy and begin a trial program. I would be willing to assist in its conceptualization and ultimate execution.

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