Educating young Jamaicans about child abuse and the course of action to be taken to address this, while helping children who may be suffering in silence, are some of the objectives of the newly established volunteer Child Ambassadors initiative of the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR).Launched in 2012, the programme is one of the OCR’s main initiatives aimed at involving more youngsters in the fight against child abuse.
Currently, there are nine child ambassadors, who were selected from across the island six months ago and presented with their instruments of appointments by Youth and Culture Minister, Hon. Lisa Hanna. They will serve for one year. One of the ambassadors, St. Andrew High School student, Ashlie Barrett, has high praises for the concept.
“So far the programme has been excellent (and) it has been great experience. We have had a lot of exposure,” she tells JIS News.
Miss Barrett says her love for other children led her to joining the programme, noting that children “are our most important investment in this country because they are our future.”
Registrar of the OCR Greig Smith, says prior to being appointed, the ambassadors participated in several workshops and training programmes at the agency’s head office, in Kingston
He explains that they learned about the importance of children’s agencies and how they, on their roles as ambassadors, can interface children within their communities and schools, as well as their peers.
Mr. Smith tells JIS News that they are expected to encourage children who they know have been or suspect of being abused, to make reports to the OCR.
“They can now educate their peers at devotions, educate parents at Parent/Teachers Association (PTA) meetings on what they need to do if they suspect or know of cases of child abuse,” he points out.
Miss Barrett says she has endeavoured to heighten the level of awareness by distributing flyers and brochures at her school, and sharing information garnered at the training sessions.
“I am planning to initiate a club. But right now what I am doing is handing out some flyers and informing my fellow class mates as well as members of the school population (on) what the OCR is about. I tell them not to be afraid, (but) to speak up against child abuse of any form,” she points out.
The young ambassador notes that her peers’ interest is often piqued whenever mention is made of the $500,000 fine which failure to report knowledge of child abuse, attracts.
Being an Ambassador has not sidetracked Miss Barrett from her studies. In fact, she indicates that she is currently preparing to sit this year’s Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).
She points out that she has successfully maintained a balance between her duties as an ambassador and school work. This, while disseminating useful information on how to deal with child abuse to her peers, through the social media networks.
“When I have free time, I put my efforts towards being an ambassador and really representing the OCR as much as I can. I’ve been spreading the word on Facebook and other social network,” she says.
While noting that she is yet to encounter any case of child abuse, Miss Barrett informs that persons have advised her of such occurrences.
“Students have been coming to me to say that they know of cases and I have been trying to get information. I’m in the process of collecting (more information) before making a report to the OCR,” she discloses.
Other Child Ambassadors have welcomed their appointments and are committing to doing everything possible to make a difference in the lives of youngsters who have experienced abuse.
“I saw being a Child Ambassador as a chance to bring about a change and I think the OCR has given me the opportunity to do just that. I will make it my priority to see (that) our nation’s children cared for in the best way possible,” student of Glenmuir High School in Clarendon and Ambassador for Region 6, Tasheka Nevers, says.
Saran Wilson of Westwood High School in Trelawny and Ambassador for Region 3, points out that: “I chose to become a Child Ambassador for the OCR as I believe that all children should be encouraged to express themselves, as they are usually undermined in society.”
The other ambassadors appointed are: Robyn Boyd of Marymount High School, St. Mary; Moesha Allen, Maud McLeod High School, Westmoreland; Deandra Goss, Hampton High School, St. Elizabeth; Francesco Wilkie, Pembroke Hall High School, St. Andrew; Brandon Blythe, Petersville All Age School, Westmoreland; and Xaundre Mohansingh, Glenmuir High School.
Since receiving their instruments of appointments, seven of the ambassadors have been formally introduced to their respective institutions through school tours organized by the OCR. These tours will eventually be rolled out to other schools across the island, and will also be used by the agency to launch the OCR Clubs in Schools initiative.
CONTACT: ELAINE HARTMAN-RECKFORD