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JIS News

The government of Jamaica, through the Possibility Programme, is working to improve the lot of street boys by providing them with the tools and support to enable them to maximize their true potential.
Instituted by Prime Minister P. J. Patterson in August 2001, the initiative has the ultimate goal of eliminating the need for the boys to be on the streets and to break the cycle of poverty.
“We saw the boys at the intersections and thought that was not the kind of image of Jamaica we want to see for our young people and when we went to the Prime Minister with the idea about doing something about it. He endorsed it fully and suggested that we ought to develop a programme that would meet the needs of the boys,” explains project chairman, Dr. Jaslin Salmon.
He tells JIS News that under the initiative, more than 25 boys have been taken from the streets of Kingston and St. Catherine and have been equipped with skills to contribute to their own development.
The Possibility Programme involves collaboration among government ministries and agencies, the non-government community, the police, church groups and private persons, to meet the social/emotional needs of these at-risk youth and to address their skills and employment needs as well. In keeping with this holistic approach, the programme operates from three centres: a Care Centre, a Behaviour Modification/Re-socialization Centre, and a Skills/Employment Centre.
The St. Andrew Care Centre, operated by the St. Andrew Parish Church, is the hub for the programme. It operates as the intake, assessment and referral facility and serves as a focal point, linking together all agencies that deal with youth and children, who are at risk. The facility is staffed by social workers and other personnel trained in childcare and development. At this centre, the youngsters are evaluated and referred to the relevant social service agencies for follow-up action and support.
At the Behaviour Modification Centre operated by the Jamaica Defence Force from its Newcastle base in St. Andrew, the boys are taken through “an intense programme of re-socializaton”, Dr. Salmon informs. The Kingston Restoration Company offers support in this area.
The third component is the Skills/Employment Centre, which takes in the older boys from 15 to 18 years and there they receive training in areas such as leather craft and shoe care. “We also give them literacy and numeracy training and those who are not particularly keen on leather craft or shoe care, after we have taken them through a programme of re-socialization and remediation, we refer them to other agencies to do auto mechanic, automotive painting, carpentry or electrical work or wherever we can find,” Dr. Salmon informs.
Although still in its pilot phase, Dr. Salmon points out that the Possibility Programme has been quite successful. “We are proud to say we have rescued a number of boys. We sent for example seven boys to Sherwin Williams where the company takes them in and teach them automotive painting and architectural painting and after they graduated, we seek to put them into apprenticeship and we have at least two boys permanently employed as a result of the programme. We have also had boys going to work in construction, fast food outlets and a number of other companies,” he informs.
Dr. Salmon also explains that not all the boys coming into the programme are delinquents and some have been able to adjust quickly and go on to impress employers during their apprenticeships. “Some of the agencies have been so impressed that they have labeled some of them as ‘stars’ and are asking for others,” he notes. A total of 17 young men graduated from the programme on September 16, and they are now expected to participate in apprenticeship schemes to complete the programme. This was the second graduation since the programme began, with the third to be held on December 4.
But, even with the successes, Dr. Salmon acknowledges that a lot more work is required before the programme can be extended to the other parishes. One of the problems to be addressed is the provision of shelter for those boys, who are homeless. “After the boys have been through a day at the centre and they have learnt some very important lessons and go out from the centre, they then have to go out and sleep on the streets and that for me is unacceptable and so we have been working hard to finding a solution,” he notes.
He informs that, “we are collaborating with the Rotary Club of St. Andrew and we are in the process of constructing a hostel to house at least 32 boys so they will not have to leave the centre and go sleep on the streets.”
The hostel will also provide a refuge for youngsters, who reside in violence-prone communities. “The boys in the programme are mostly from the inner cities and there are times when for days, the boys cannot come to the centres because of the violence in their communities and when they have to leave the centres and go back to the communities,” Dr. Salmon points out.
He further points to the problem of boys dropping out of the programme and going back to the streets, but says agencies are offering their support to find a solution.
Meanwhile, Dr. Salmon notes that the future of the programme looks positive especially with the support of the government. “The government has been extremely good in supporting the programme and most of the funding for the programme comes from the government and significant support comes from the HEART Trust/NTA as well as private companies that continue to give us support”.
“We hope that with this support that the programme in the long run will get us to the point where we will not see boys wiping windscreens and begging at intersections. If we were able to get to that point, then the programme would have been significantly successful,” he tells JIS News.
He notes further that, “if we can save one boy and we have saved more than one, then in the long run, we would been successful. We believe the future is bright for these boys. These are talented young men and what they need is support. The government has been good and the private sector has been supportive and we hope that this support can be expanded to even greater extent.”
Dr. Salmon appealed to Jamaicans to “open your arms” to these boys. “These boys are less fortunate, let us open our arms to them and do what we can to uplift them. We recognize however that they must also do something for themselves and I want to urge the public not to give money to these boys at intersections as this encourages them to continue this behaviour. I encourage people to rather contribute to the Possibility Programme and we will ensure that the funds go into the programme to support the boys”.