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They have refused to be stereotyped and boxed in a corner, choosing instead to defy the odds, and in the process, break down the social construct that seeks to define them and determine their destiny.

Orlando Powell, Dwayne Haynes and Shallene Oliver have proven that children who have been put in the care of the State are not destined for a life of doom and gloom, but with the correct guidance and interventions, can become productive members of the society.

Despite the challenging circumstances they may have faced, they have worked hard to ensure that they make something of themselves, and in doing so, have been able to accomplish more than some of their privileged counterparts.

All three wards are now actively pursuing or seeking to pursue tertiary level education that will see them making a positive impact on the society in their various fields. They have been given this opportunity, due to the generosity of Children of Jamaica Outreach Inc. (COJO), a Jamaican charitable organisation based in New York.

The wards were presented with scholarships worth US$4,000 each during COJO’s annual scholarship awards luncheon, held at the Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston on May 22. Founder and Chairman of COJO, Gary Williams, also presented the awardees with computer tablets.

The scholarships were made accessible to the wards through the Child Development Agency (CDA).

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, who was on hand to assist with presentations, noted that COJO’s scholarship award, “sends a clear message that we should be careful of the labels we place on our children, irrespective of their circumstances and their backgrounds.”

“We still have a very long way to go in this country, as we get rid of stigmatising and stereotyping our children in State care,” she said.

Orlando, who is in his third year of study for a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work at Northern Caribbean University, says he intends to be a great product of society and ultimately a good father and husband when that time comes.

Though he has aspirations of being “filthy rich,” the intelligent young man is aware that this can only be achieved through hard work and dedication, as he is guided by his personal philosophy that “good things come to those who work for it.”

The past student of Happy Grove High school in Portland, who started out his tertiary education studying Psychology, decided instead to choose a career that “gives me an opportunity to be a more hands on person, to empower people.” He is grateful to COJO and the CDA that he will be able to fulfill these aspirations.

For Dwayne, who is the current Head Boy of St. Jago High School, and is in Upper Sixth at the institution, his dream is to pursue a career in law at the University of the West Indies.

Dwayne shared that he was overjoyed when he learnt he was a scholarship recipient. “Just the fact that I was recognised by the CDA and COJO, that made my day; that made me feel really special,” he said.

Shallene is in her second year of study, reading for her Bachelors degree in Nursing at the International University of the Caribbean.

She thanked COJO “for affording us these scholarships and the wonderful way in which they have been presented to us.”

“I would also like to say thanks to Mrs. (Francis) Edie, Mrs. Eunice Scott-Shaw (Regional Director of the CDA), and other members of the CDA staff who worked assiduously to make these scholarships accessible, in order to assist us in realising our dreams in our different fields,” she said.

“As recipients of these scholarships, we can assure you that we will make ourselves and by extension, you the sponsors proud,” she added.

Meanwhile, Minister Hanna said the recipients are an inspiration to her and are role models for young people all across Jamaica and the world to emulate.

“As wards of the State, you have proven that no circumstances will allow you to limit your dreams and your potential and your aspirations. You have already begun to realize those dreams by pursuing tertiary level education and being among the brightest and best young people produced by our society,” she said.

The Minister said it is important that when children are doing well, “when they are braving the odds and in the face of adversity conquering all and achieving outstanding accomplishments,” they must be given the recognition that they deserve, as COJO is doing through this “fine gesture,” which will provide encouragement and tangible help for the deserving young people.

“Organisations such as COJO are critical to the multi-task process of caring for our children, protecting them, encouraging their positive development and achievement of personal and collective success. The Government and all our agencies work diligently every day with persons like Mr. Williams to ensure the absolute importance of joining hands and hearts with the State, as we embark together on the mission for

For her part, Chief Executive Officer of the CDA, Carla Francis-Edie said the agency was heartened by the achievements of children in State care over the last several years.

She said it is laudable that the wards have continued to excel, “despite the challenging circumstances from which many of them hail.”

Mrs. Francis-Edie noted that last year, more than $19 million was expended on educating children in the care of the State. “Despite this, we need the support of our partners in corporate Jamaica and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), such as COJO. This is why an organisation like COJO is priceless,” she said.

She thanked COJO for its partnership, especially due to the fact that the scholarship recipients have formally exited the CDA’s care, which means they are over 18 years old.

The scholarship luncheon is among the activities forming part of COJO’s week-long visit to Jamaica in observance of Child Month.

These include presentations of computers, appliances, office equipment and sneakers to New Vision Children’s Home in Manchester, Garland Hall Children’s Home in St James, and Maxfield Park Children’s Home in Kingston.

COJO is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to help improve the health, education and general well-being of underprivileged children. Over the past 10 years, the volunteer-driven organisation has supported a number of institutions in Jamaica and the United States.