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The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), has launched an initiative to assist the children of the Rio Grande Valley, Portland, who lost parents in an accident on December 19, in which a market truck overturned, killing 14 persons.
The OPM is to donate $500,000 to start the fund, and the Ministry of Agriculture has undertaken to contribute the same amount.
Announcing the initiative, titled, ‘A Helping Hand’, today (December 23), at the post-Cabinet press briefing, at Jamaica House, Minister of State for Project Implementation and Service Delivery in the OPM, Daryl Vaz, pointed out that in addition to the commitment that was given to assist with the funeral of the 14 persons who died in the accident, Prime Minister Bruce Golding was also very concerned about the welfare of the nearly 50 children, who had lost at least one parent in the tragedy.
It is in light of this, Mr. Vaz said, that an account (Number 351 077 328) had been opened at the National Commercial Bank (NCB), where donations can be made at any branch islandwide.
“This is a further step by the Government to ensure that the long term needs of the children are met.as such the Administrator General’s Department is in place to guide the actions necessary to ensure that the funds collected are managed for the best interest of each child, until they achieve adulthood,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vaz has also met with the Ministries of Health, Labour and Social Security, and Education, all of which have already begun gathering information on the affected children, and making immediate efforts to assist in the affected communities. In addition, he has ordered a social enquiry report, which will assess the housing, health and education situation of each of the children.
This report will be ready in early January, and co-ordinated between the Child Development Agency, and the Ministry of Education. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has also been asked to get involved, and will assess the report, in order to determine what assistance can be offered.
Mr. Vaz said that the public is being asked to assist with any gifts, clothing or other items to assist the bereaved communities. “These can be delivered to the Kingston and Portland offices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and also any of the poor relief offices in each parish, between today (December 23) and tomorrow. We hope that we will be able to get these gifts into these communities on Christmas day, and we are making arrangements to have them transported and for them to be distributed,” he told journalists.
He said the Government is inviting all churches to take a special collection for the victims of the accident, over the Christmas weekend, and to also dedicate a special prayer for the affected families and the communities.
Mr. Vaz, Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, and representatives of a number of government agencies, including the Social Development Commission (SDC), and non-governmental organisations, will travel to the community of Millbank, where all family members are expected to gather, along with the pastors for various churches, and community members, to finalise funeral arrangements.
He used the opportunity to formally express his regret at the tragedy and to congratulate the citizens and government agencies that have already responded.
Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports (MICYS), Olivia Grange, also expressed her condolences, noting that a special team has been assembled by the SDC to go into the communities and assist, not just with counselling, but also with food supplies, and would continue to work closely with the Ministries and other bodies. She requested that two persons be identified from the communities to liaise with the SDC.
Miss Grange also noted that a major fund-raising event would be staged, through the MICYS, as the Ministry seeks to make its own contribution.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton noted that the tragedy had caused a severe loss to the farming community. “Of the 14 persons who died, ten had dual occupations, as both higglers and farmers. From the Ministry’s perspective, we feel quite grieved about the situation, not just from the perspective of many losses, but from the perspective that the agricultural community has been severely impacted. We have to focus on those young ones that are left behind, to ensure that they have a decent education, so the $500,000 is for the children and their care. I hope also that this issue will highlight the challenges of agriculture and the farming community, in bringing food to the people of Jamaica,” he said.