UNICEF assists needy children in western Jamaica


MONTEGO BAY, St James – George Thomas Snr, the father of a 12-year-old boy from Hanover who was attending school a mere one day monthly due to financial difficulties, is expressing gratitude for the assistance received from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-sponsored Children of Faith Programme.

“I am thanking UNICEF for the support they gave to my son’s mother, and also what they do for me in releasing some of the burden on me. So, I thank them very much and I hope God will always bless them to be there to help somebody else,” Thomas told the Jamaica Observer West during last week’s UNICEF/Children of Faith workshop held at the Grandiosa Hotel in St James.

Thomas’s son Roshane is an immediate past student of Chester Castle All-Age School, where his attendance was dismal prior to the intervention of the Children of Faith initiative.

His former principal, Tiffany Grant-Smith, emphasised that Roshane, who sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) recently, showed vast improvement in his attendance at school following the help from the group.

Thomas, a labourer, said “it was difficult” as the mother of his three children, Octavia Smith, was not working. However, with the assistance of the programme, he remarked that she became an entrepreneur selling detergent.

This, he said, tremendously relieved him of the burden he carried from not having a full-time job.

“I did not have a straight nine to five. My nine to five was on and off. I am a self-employed person. So, you call me and give me something this month, maybe next month I don’t see another work for all two, three, months,” explained Thomas.

“George and Georgia (15-year-old son and 17 year-old daughter) would have it rough just like Roshane the same way. But UNICEF came and when we see what they have, we say we going to stick with them. They did not give me anything as the father, but they gave the mother help. I stayed on my own [work], but I saw what it did for Roshane, George and Georgia also.”

It was a proud moment for the father when during the workshop Roshane was given the opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of other children who also benefited from the programme.

“Right now I am very proud of him. Even while I was sitting there, it was like tears coming out of my eyes to see him because of the potential that he has. He told me that, ‘Daddy, I want to be the star. I am going to open the show today.’ So I sat there and I watched him. It is like tears coming down from my eyes. I had to keep turning away my head,” disclosed the proud father, who added, “I know he is brilliant and I know what is in him. I thank UNICEF to come and help push him where he wants to go.”

The workshop was organised to share the results of the programme, which addressed long-term truancy among children across western Jamaica, as well as to recognise outstanding leadership and performance among children and adolescents in the programme.

Executive director of Children of Faith, Gloria Meredith, pointed out that the issue of children in sections of western Jamaica not attending school on a regular basis, and in other cases children who dropped out of school, was tackled from three angles: financially, psychologically, and from a community level.

Schools within these three communities in Hanover — Chester Castle, Mount Ward and Mount Peto — and Bethel Town in Westmoreland, benefited from intervention, which saw some 248 children and young adults getting assistance.

An articulate Roshane, who wants to become a marine biologist, expressed delight that he was now able to attend school on a regular basis.

“I feel very happy right now that I can go back to school on a regular basis and to learn more things…,” said Roshane, who currently attends Cambridge High School in St James.

Some 87.5 per cent of children under the programme attend school four to five times per week, while nine young adults (17-19 years-old) are entering skills training endeavours.

Also in attendance at last week’s workshop were: Lone Hvass, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Jamaica; Judge Rosalie Toby, board member of Children of Faith; Jeanne Foster-Robinson of the Good Shepherd Foundation; and Custos of Hanover Dr David Stair.