Youngsters at the Homestead Child Care Facility in Stony Hill, St. Andrew, were afforded the opportunity to interact informally with Youth and Culture Minister, Hon. Lisa Hanna, during her surprise visit to the institution on Friday December 21.
The wards were treated to musical renditions courtesy of the Glenmuir High School Choir, much to the delight of many who rocked and sang along. The visit, which coincided with the facility's Miss Homestead Pageant, also saw the girls showcasing their talents as well.
Ms. Hanna, in her group rap session with the girls, encouraged them to follow their dreams, and not to let their experiences dampen their spirits.
"These walls, yes, are confining ..But your spirit and your sense of self, is not. Your imagination is what is going to carry you through," she said.
She told the girls that they should not deem their situation as definitive of who they are, but rather as an opportunity for them to achieve great things. She cited well known persons, who were foster children, and who persevered and moved on to make meaningful and significant contributions to society through various endeavours. These, she informed, include: the late Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc, Steve Jobs; entertainer, Jamie Foxx; actor, Eddie Murphy; and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
"You might feel you are in a situation where you are the only person in life who is experiencing this…not true. What you have to be able to do, is realise that you can't let the experience get you down and that we are all here to support you and to help you," she said.
The Minister promised to try and fulfill some of the requests made by the girls, such as facilitating more outings and increased visits for them, in a bid to enable greater interaction with other persons.
The Minister also encouraged members of the Glenmuir High School choir to share their stories of challenge and success with the girls. The choir members later offered the girls words of advice and encouragement.
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Sidney Bartley, told JIS News that the Ministry, led by Ms. Hanna, decided to reach out to residents of various children's homes in an effort to lift their spirits during the Christmas season.
"Yesterday, we were in Clarendon, so we (visited) the children's homes in Chapleton, St. Monica's and Summerfield Boys Home. Today we (came) to Homestead. We will then move into Maxfield Park (Children's Home) and then we go into Spanish Town to Jerusalem, run by a Catholic Church," he informed.
Mr. Bartley, who is also Principal Director of Culture in the Ministry, said it is important that wards of the state also get an opportunity to share in the joy of the season.
Manager of the facility, Carmen Mullings, said she appreciated the visit from the Minister and her team, which the girls enjoyed immensely.
Homestead is a government-run facility catering to girls, aged 12 to 18 years, who are in need of care and protection. It is operated under the auspices of the Child Development Agency (CDA). The girls are sent to the facility via the court or through remand by the police or children's officer.
"At present, we have 42 girls, the capacity is 60. We do have girls that attend a number of high schools in the Corporate Area. We also have a school on the compound where we cater for their needs, as it relates to Mathematics, English, remedial studies, and computer (skills)," Ms. Mullings told JIS News. The girls are also taught skills in clothing and textile and woodwork.
Previously an institution for boys, Homestead has been operating as a girls' home since 2005.