MIRANDA Powell is not your average retiree who gets to spend her days relaxing at home with her grandchildren. Most of her time is now spent presiding over various projects in Clarendon, aimed at improving the lives of those in the Smithville community where she grew up.
Powell migrated to England at 15, and served as a government social worker for many years there before finally being qualified for retirement. After visiting Jamaica back and forth throughout this time, she finally decided to come back home for good 10 years ago.
"I prayed when I was in England to God to please get me back to my own country when I was young enough and had enough strength to go around and do something. God honoured that," she said.
The number of lives she has been able to touch since coming back home is innumerable. They range from the children for whom she was able to help secure birth certificates so they could attend school; to the elderly and shut-ins who benefit from a feeding programme she helps to organise. She also helps parents through a parenting and literacy programme she helped start in the small, Smithville community.
"When I came back, my focus was on helping mothers and helping parents to raise their children, because when I was abroad and I was looking at what was going on in Jamaica, I realised that the society needed to change, and the one way that I could start the change in the society was by starting from the cradle as we would say," she told All Woman.
"I feel that if children have the right input and the right education and the right type of discipline and the right kind of guidance, that would help them to be different people."
Miranda Powell's parenting programme
Given her concerns, she started a parenting programme aimed at empowering and educating parents. After a while, it became obvious that these parents had other issues that could be better resolved with the backing of the whole community. A number of the residents then came together and started the Smithville Community Association in 2006 and voted Powell as the president, even though the social worker was living in May Pen. They felt she would be better able to advocate for various things on their behalf and the retiree had no qualms about taking on this role.
"Advocating on people's behalf and empowering people has been my main thing. There are a lot of people, I believe, who are in positions where they are not able to speak up for themselves; they are not able to understand a lot of things that are being done to them and so I brought those skills back that would help me to help people," said the social worker.
One of the first things the association started lobbying for was a better school facility to replace the existing early childhood institution in the area that, according to Powell, was not suitable or safe for learning.
"They didn't have any proper building as it were, there was no proper flooring; it was just red flooring. They did not have any proper toilet facilities and no cooking facilities. I couldn't believe what I saw, and so it became a mission for me because I was determined that the students would have to get out from where they were," she said.
The group took on other projects while working to complete the building of the new early childhood institution. One of these projects was the national best community competition which they entered in 2007. Powell said the entire community, especially the young people, joined forces to beautify the entire community and felt exhilarated when they were given the second place trophy for Clarendon. They also received $250,000 for their effort.
"It was really hard work to fulfil all the criteria that was there, but we worked hard, we worked like troopers, the whole group of us," Powell said.
It was decided by the group that the money would be invested in a literacy programme for adults, so as to benefit residents in Smithville and surrounding communities. A feeding programme was also started in collaboration with Food for the Poor which provided them with groceries to distribute to needy families.
"There are a lot of elderly persons there, people who are mentally challenged, people who are financially challenged, lots and lots of them, and in fact, the last count we had was about 89 people that we have been providing food for, and that's ongoing," Powell explained.
Powell still goes to England to visit her two children and her five grandchildren. But apart from her biological children, she also fostered other children in England, and adopted a young lady into her family whose two children she said are treated no differently from her own grandkids.
"I am always going around taking people's children," she shared with a laugh.
Powell ended her career working as a manager for one of the adoption services operated by the local government. As a social worker, she worked with a lot of destitute families and children. She was also a specialist social worker in the Afro-Caribbean community.
"When I was in England, I was being paid to do official work as it were. Here in Jamaica, I am doing voluntary work, so there is no comparison. But I felt a lot of satisfaction for the work that I did in England, because I worked with children and families also and I saw lots and lots of good results. But it gives me joy to be able to come back here and offer something; to be able to do something to change maybe one or two lives. I really get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction by working and doing," she said.