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Young persons in Newlands, Portmore, St. Catherine were recently given the chance to spend a day outside the community, being exposed to various opportunities that could help them to improve their lives.
The “development exposition” catered to young people aged 15-25, and was organised by the St. Catherine office (Region 5) of the Social Development Commission (SDC) in collaboration with the Newlands Praise and Prayer Church and Councillor for the division, Dr. Andrew Wheatley.
Dr. Wheatley, who is also the Mayor of Spanish Town, said he was quite happy with the development as, in recent months, the community has been going through a crisis and a number of young people were missing out on opportunities.
He said that a decision was taken to “take the opportunities to these youngsters”, by engaging them in motivational activities and exposing them to the many programmes available from various agencies.
Fifty young people in Newlands, representing some 25 percent of the targeted age cohort, made up the pilot group. They were expected to go back into the community to spread the word that there are opportunities for young people to develop themselves and move on with their lives.
The development workshop was held at Wynter’s Park, St. Catherine, where they would not have to worry about pressures of any sort. One of the mandates of the SDC is to facilitate development within communities, and since issues relating to youths are primarily linked to community development, the workshop was deemed a step in the right direction.
SDC Governance Co-ordinator for Portmore, Lloyd Erskine, said that because there were hurdles in the way of the youths, it was the SDC’s business to “open the door” for them, hoping they would see the opportunities and take advantage of them.
These opportunities were offered by agencies such as HEART/NTA, Jamaica Foundation for Life Long Learning, Jamaica National Small Business, and the Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC). They targeted young people who wanted to develop themselves academically, vocationally and in terms of entrepreneurship.
Mr. Erskine pointed out that the young people in Newlands, like so many other communities, were not often exposed outside of their limited environment. He implied that a lack of motivation and information were reasons why some of them were unable to access opportunities.
“There will be an ongoing assessment and follow-up. We will follow-up based on what their visions are, to ensure they are attached to service providers who will allow them to achieve their goals,” he noted.
One stakeholder partner representative, Kira Williams of the JBDC, said she was happy to be part of the workshop, and to expose and advise youths on the opportunities available to them, and that the JBDC was a ‘natural fit’ in projects of this nature.
“We try to be adaptable to the needs of whoever comes to us,” Ms. William said.
“Our main focus is micro/small businesses, and that can be quite a range of activities. It doesn’t matter a person’s age, as long as they have the capacity to put together an idea that can be feasible, we can help them make it work into something they can earn from,” she added.
Youth friendly programmes offered by the JBDC include BEYOND( Building Youth for National Development). This programme targets young people, 17-35 years old, training them in business development and giving them grants, depending on how well they do at the training. Another is the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), a new programme which offers funding and training for young tertiary graduates in business development activities.
“So yes, we fit very well here,” she quipped.
Although some of the young people who participated in the pilot project were apprehensive, most were delighted that they, as inner-city persons, were being given another chance to make something of themselves.
After all, one young man said, “we naah goh stay youths forever, so we haffi step up eena life.”
Ricardo Barrett feels the project is a good one, because it gives youths a chance to start a career.
“Yah man a good t’ing dis man. Mi feel good yuh nuh,” he exclaimed.
He added that he would be going back to his “corner” to tell his friends about it, so some of them can participate in the future.
Nicholas Vassel and Kirk Johnson were also delighted with the project.
“Nuh true wi come from inner-city community yuh nuh. Opportunity out dey, but most a wi nuh certify. But, this is a programme that can get wi certify an’ mek wi know sey wi have somet’ing fi look fah eena de future,” Kirk commented.
“Some of dem hear an’ like it, but ‘fraid fi put out like dem nuh mek up dem mind. But, when mi goh back, mi wi tell dem wha mi learn, so maybe nex’ time dem wi come,” said Nicholas.
Opal, who wants to become a sales manager, also had high praise for the project. She described it was one of the best things to happen to the young people in the community.
“I’m definitely going to grasp all that I can, so it can help me in the future,” she said.
Dr. Wheatley said that the success of the project will allow for its duplication it in other troubled communities in St. Catherine.
“We have a responsibility, as the representatives, not only to look about the political aspect, but also the social aspects of our communities, and this social intervention is just one of the many activities we’ve used to try to reach our socially challenged communities,” he stated.
Newlands is in South St. Catherine and comprises an estimated 12,000 residents. Like many other developing communities, it faces challenges of unemployment, limited social and commercial facilities, minor economic potential, much crime and violence and a fast growing youth population.

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