JIS News

At 19 years-old Kamala LaTouche thought she had it all figured out. The self-described “unfocussed and wayward” teen felt she could make life on her own without help from anyone.
But, her all-age school principal thought otherwise, and felt Kamala needed the structure, training and life coping skills that a programme, such as the National Youth Service’s (NYS) Customer Care Corps, could offer. It took three years of urging from her former principal before Kamala decided to join the NYS and she has not regretted the decision.
“When I first started, I wanted to leave. I did not want to be under any form of restriction, but after a while, I got along with staff at the NYS centre as well as other participants in the corps. I was not sorry that I stayed when I decided to,” she says.
“It was a life changing programme” the now 22-year old tells JIS News, noting that she was voted most outstanding participant at the Cobbler camp in Manchester, where she was placed as part of the re-socialisation aspect of the programme, and was selected as the master of ceremonies at the graduation ceremony held three months ago at Cobbler.
“I was refocused and when I left, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I am still striving towards my goals,” she adds.
A finalist in this year’s ‘Rising Stars’ competition, Kamala says the programme literally taught “her to reach for the stars” and she now has a new outlook on life.
Marlon Hill, who has also benefited under this initiative, tells JIS News that the seven-month programme was “pretty good.”
“My behaviour was modified in terms of my deportment. This was taken to a higher level and my dress code was also improved,” he says. “There was a drastic improvement in my time management,” he adds, noting that he improved from the habit of always being late to now, always being 15 minutes early.
Hill, who is now on staff at the NYS, says the programme also helped him to deal with authority and to communicate better with people.
“After dealing with 300 other participants as well as trainers for seven months, you tend to get to know how to deal with other people,” he tells JIS News.Kamala and Marlon are representative of the 140,000 Jamaican youth that the NYS is trying to reach through its many programmes and initiatives. They are unattached and unfocussed, with no clear idea of their place in society and need some guidance as to where they should go and what they should do.With concern that the programme was not reaching this group, the NYS, which was instituted in 1973, took at 12-year break from 1983 to 1995 to redirect its efforts so as to make a more meaningful impact.
The period was used to facilitate capacity building in the organisation, as amidst its many efforts, more resources were needed to tackle the high level of youth unemployment, academic underachievement and there was need for an agency that could provide training opportunities for young people.
“From all the reviews, the pause from service that NYS took was worth it. The programme is now seeing a significant boost as it relates to fulfilling many aspects of the government’s youth employment strategy,” says the agency’s Executive Director, Rev. Adinhair Jones.
The new and improved NYS came a year after the1994 National Youth Policy was put into effect and since then, the policy has provided the framework for NYS’ programmes.
When the Service became a statutory body in 1999, this was a sign that at least the financial picture would improve immensely. In 2001, the organisation was taken under the wings of the Ministry of Education and Youth, and the programmes are now funded by the Government of Jamaica with contributions from private institutions.
Rev. Jones tells JIS News that, through the Education Ministry, some $220 million has been invested in 24,000 participants since 1995. This has helped to facilitate the personal growth, transformation and development of more youth than ever before in its 33-year history of the NYS.
For the 2006/2007 financial year alone, some 6,500 persons are expected to participate in one or more NYS-initiated projects, but Rev. Jones says that the number could reach as high as 10,000 persons. This, he says, represents a nearly 300 per cent increase over last year’s figure, as about 3,500 youth were attached to the organisation at that time.
The NYS’ flagship programme is the Corps Programme, which is a four-week career training and re-socialization residential orientation followed by a six-month job placement for high school graduates, aged 17-24 years. The aim is to facilitate career development, re-socalise youth to core values, and to encourage national service.
During the period of on-the-job training, the NYS pays the participant a stipend to subsidize transportation and lunch. The agency identifies placement sites and posts participants based on the needs of the organization, the skills or qualifications of participants, preferences, and the distance from their homes.
The National Summer Employment and the Jamaica Values and Attitudes Project for Tertiary Students (JAMVAT) programmes are two of the NYS’ most successful initiatives.
An average of 4,000 secondary students benefit from meaningful employment during the summer holidays under the Summer Employment Programme, with the government, this year, committing $46 million to provide employment for 4,500 students.
Meanwhile, JAMVAT is making an effort to assist students, who qualify for tertiary admission, but are unable to finance their education. The programme pays 30 per cent of each participant’s tuition on the condition that they provide 200 hours of community service. There were more than 2,200 applicants for this year’s programme and more than $100 million has been committed to the effort.
Another programme is the Peace Facilitators Corps, which mainly targets young males. “We take young people, especially from the most volatile communities in Jamaica, and expose them to a certain level of training that will provide them with the skills to do mediation, assist with diversion programmes to direct people away from a lifestyle of violence and provide critical support, working with various agencies,” Rev. Jones explains.
Success Camp is an off-shoot of the Peace Facilitators Corps project and the initiative targets young students with behavioural problems. This year, some 300 students will benefit from two camps slated for the Garvey Maceo Comprehensive High School in Clarendon. “What will highlight the project’s effectiveness, Rev. Jones says, “is the youngster’s turnaround in behaviour when he or she returns to school”.
A new addition to the NYS slew of programmes is the Emergency Corps, which was established in response to the need for a coordinated response system that involves more than the established response groups such as the Jamaica Red Cross, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
“One of the gaps that came up in relation to shelter and rescue management was the lack of trained human resource. A decision was therefore taken that the NYS would train a corps of emergency workers.
Participants are now placed within areas, which are close to disaster zones outlined by ODPEM,” Rev. Jones informs. He notes that the NYS participants are now on call to assist in disaster mitigation exercises as the need arises.
As part of the programme, some 20 persons are to be trained in animal and human rescue and the mobilisation of people for evacuation. The training will take place in Cuba later this month under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).