KINGSTON — Giving children from inner city communities an opportunity for a solid educational and developmental base has been the mission of the Voluntary Organisation for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH) for the past 32 years.
A non-governmental agency, VOUCH, which was created in 1979 with the merger of two children's organizations – the Child Welfare Association and the Jamaica Children's Service Society- caters to expectant mothers as well as children up to six years old, through a pre-natal clinic, nursery and pre-school and a basic school. They also provide services for children with special needs.
Ideally located at National Heroes Circle, Kingston, VOUCH primarily caters to the immediate communities of Fletcher’s Land and Allman Town in Kingston, but also reaches out to families in Duhaney Park, Kingston, Portmore, St. Catherine and Yallahs, St. Thomas.
In an interview with JIS News, Chairman of VOUCH, Laker Levers, says the Board of Directors, with the help of a very dedicated staff, has been working to strengthen the institution’s role in education.
He said that, over the past few years, the educational improvements have resulted in all primary schools now accepting children from VOUCH’s Sylvia Foote Basic School.
He says VOUCH has also been working to be fully qualified as an early childhood institution, having started the process required by the Early Childhood Commission. It is also pursuing accreditation from HEART/NTA, as a training centre.
Having recognised the important role of the institution in the development of children, the Government assists in the running of the facility through subventions from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of Education.
“Apart from that, the Ministry of Education pays the Principal (of the basic school) and we have to provide, through our own efforts, the funding of all the cost of maintaining the school premises and the school itself. (So) we are always fundraising,” he says.
On a recent visit to the school, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Hon Andrew Gallimore, lauded VOUCH for contributing to the development of children residing in inner city communities.
“VOUCH is making a huge difference in the lives of many families here in the inner city, providing day care … and also doing a full pre-school. They are doing a fantastic job,” he told JIS News.
The State Minister toured the Sylvia Foote Basic School, where he engaged students in an interactive storytelling session. He said the visit was in support of VOUCH’s significant role in caring for almost 135 children, daily.
“We want to give them encouragement, we want to give them whatever assistance we can in doing the job that they are doing, and we are very pleased with what they have done with the resources they have,” he said.
VOUCH also conducts training courses for caregivers, and serves as a placement facility for organisations such as the National Youth Service (NYS), the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) and the National Academy.
Mr. Levers notes that the board has been working to improve VOUCH’s infrastructural capacity. He said that, with the aid of Food for the Poor, the board is in the process of constructing a library and a trauma centre at the complex.
“It’s not yet complete but, on completion, the trauma centre is for the parents and the community in general,” he notes. As the school is situated in Fletchers Land, reputed as a volatile community, he said the centre would offer counselling services to help residents cope with their experiences.
He says there is still need for proper external walls for the premises, as well as a suitable staff room and an auditorium for staging events. Material has already been donated by fast food chain, Burger King, towards the building of perimeter walls.
The increase in the number of students means that two additional classrooms will also be needed.
“We want to keep class sizes down, to about 15, so that individual attention can be given to each child,” Mr. Levers says. There are currently 20 students in each class.
Principal of the Sylvia Foote Basic School, Danielle Griffiths-Chin, says that much emphasis is placed on literacy development, and enhancing the reading skills of children as they prepare for the primary level.
The school offers an inclusive programme, which accepts special needs students. These students are placed in regular classrooms, with special educators assigned to them to provide training and assessment.
“Some students may have severe developmental delays. Others may have Downs Syndrome or Autism. So, we really offer, based on what their need is; that’s how we create an individual learning programme for them,” Mrs. Griffiths-Chin explained.
The school also addresses the spiritual development of the students, as emphasised in its “Kids for Christ” club, on a weekly basis.”
The Chairman says that, with the improvements envisaged, he hopes VOUCH will become better able to serve the children of the inner city communities.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter