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A house for Christmas

Gov't promises unregistered teen, family a new home by year-end

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, November 03, 2018

ALL 17-year-old Raheem Powell wanted when he spoke to the Jamaica Observer last week Tuesday was to go back to school, but he will be getting a lot more.

The teen, who has no birth certificate — which kept him from going back to school after he dropped out at grade six — was yesterday promised a house by year-end.

In fact, Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, who made the disclosure yesterday at a press briefing at his Hagley Park Road offices, also pledged to cover the cost for Raheem to fulfil his educational dreams.

The minister learnt about Raheem's plight after Tuesday's Observer front-page story, 'No birth certificate', detailed the teenager's separation from the formal education system and his current craving for knowledge.

“When it was brought to my attention it touched me in many ways,” McKenzie said yesterday.

According to the minister, the Ministry of Local Government has responsibility for community development, which forms part of its core function as a ministry.

“We will undertake all the expenses that will be associated with his education, along with his brother (who is 16 years old and attends a high school in St Catherine). We are making all the arrangements; we have been in touch with Minister Floyd Green to ensure that we get Raheem registered in the programme to assist him in upgrading his education,” McKenzie said.

According to the minister, his younger brother is in school but finds it difficult to attend, at times.

“We will take that responsibility to ensure we provide what is necessary for him [Raheem's brother] to continue in school. The Poor Relief Department is working closely with the Social Development Commission [which] visited the area where [they live]... And, based on the information that has come back, we don't find that environment conducive for living,” McKenzie said. “We are therefore going to be constructing on the property that is owned by the family, two bedrooms to facilitate the Powell family, because we believe that as a Government we should not allow our citizens to live in the conditions that they live.”

McKenzie later told the Observer that the two bedrooms that will be constructed will be a concrete structure.

In the meantime, the minister also praised Raheem for being patriotic.

“For a young man to come forward, knowing his shortcomings, and to participate in a national event — and even as I speak he is wearing the medal that he received when he participated in the race — that is what patriotism is all about,” the minister said yesterday. “This is what depicts a true Jamaican and it is the least the Government can do... We will do all that is necessary to support them and to ensure that this Christmas will not only be a bright Christmas, but that they will see a change in their environment.”

McKenzie thanked Raheem for participating in the Portmore leg of the cross-country run that was hosted by the Portmore Municipal Council last week Tuesday as part of the launch of Local Government and Community Development Month, which is being observed in November.

“I want to salute him and thank him for... giving to us what nobody knew he had: A heart of gold,” the minister said.

McKenzie said the ministry's technical team has already started the process for the house and that they are hoping that they will be able to complete the construction of the house before the end of the year, “so at least the new year will catch them in new surroundings”.

On Tuesday, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Floyd Green expressed interest in assisting Raheem through the Child Protection and Family Services Agency. The Registrar General's Department, HEART Trust/NTA, and Observer readers have also offered assistance to the struggling teenager.

Yesterday, Raheem and his mother Ann-Marie Douglas thanked the agencies and the people who have offered assistance.

“I'm glad for the help for him. I am happy for the house, too, because when it rains it leak and the rain blow in and wet up the things, so I am happy,” Douglas said.