A prince-ly prize

Inner-city youth get special Prince Diana award and meet Prince Harry

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 25, 2012

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TWELVE-year-old Chrisyln Winter and 17-year-old Alex Newman will never forget March 6, 2012.


It was the day they both met Prince Henry of Wales (always known as Prince Harry) as he whisked through events during his four-day visit to the island in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of his grandmother, The Queen.


Winter and Newman rubbed shoulders with royalty because they are the first two Jamaicans to ever receive the prestigious International Diana Award for their work with children in inner-city communities.


The Diana Award was established in 1999 in memory of Princess Diana of Wales, late mother of the Prince, as a legacy to her belief in the power of young people to change the world. It is presented annually to inspirational young people between nine and 18 years old, who have demonstrated a commitment to helping their peers.


Winter's voice reverberated with excitement as she recounted for the Sunday Observer her brief, yet powerful, meeting with the Prince. Unlike some Jamaican children her age, Wilson knows just who the Prince is, what he symbolises, and she isn't immune to his star power as the son of the late 'Princess Di'.


"I was excited! I was so happy, not just for meeting him but for him giving me the award. He was supposed to present it himself but the High Commission presented it to me before," she said, her elation undiminished. "They planned it that we meet him in a different place from the crowd."


"We met in a little room (at RISE Life Management Services, downtown Kingston) where there was not a lot of people, so that it was very private," she explained.


The teenager recalled word-for-word her short conversation with the Prince, which consisted of personal greetings, congratulations and a handshake.


Winter was not the only one overcome with excitement about her personal meeting with Prince Harry, her mother and school family at Immaculate Conception High, where she is a seventh grader, were just as excited.


"My classmates were happy and they were showing me to everybody and saying that I had met the Prince. Well, not only my classmates, but my entire school body. Everybody was like, 'Is you meet the Prince? What did the Prince say?' and I had to answer them."


Jacqueline McDonald, Winter's proud mother, bragged about the teen's obsession with her schoolwork.


"When it comes on to her schoolwork, she would mad you!" McDonald declared.


"If she get homework to do and you can't help her to do it, boy you have a bad night, 'cause she won't stop," she said. "She just think about her schoolwork. You have to force her to eat little food and to take 'a five'. Is just the book. I have to get serious on her sometimes and tell her some drastic things for her to give the book a break. If she going to use the toilet, the book going too! If you and her even going for a walk, she pack bag. And you see when you check the bag? Book in there. If she going somewhere to enjoy herself, the book is there."


But it is her passion for learning that led Winter to offer her services as a part of the homework support team with the RISE Kidz Club, an after-school educational-enrichment and life-skills programme operated by RISE Life Management Services in the inner-city community of Parade Gardens, where she resides. Winter received the Princess Diana award in recognition of her efforts here.


She said she joined RISE Life Management Services when she enrolled in after school classes the organisation offered in the evenings for students prepping for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). After her success in the exams and subsequent graduation, she returned as a volunteer mathematics tutor. On her own initiative, she collected study material from her past teachers at St Aloysius Primary school and designed a way to make learning easier for others preparing for exams.


Winter is known as a group leader with a flair for the dramatic, creating skits to illustrate the various social challenges in Parade Gardens and adjoining communities.


"We are trying to get rid of violence from out of Jamaica, starting from the kids, so that is why I am helping. The situation in my community is really violent, so I don't want to see them turn to violence, and I want to see other children achieve as much as they can," Winter said, adding that her community is torn by violence, and death by the bullet is not uncommon, even for children like herself.


Violence has even touched her family personally, Winter said, explaining that her grandfather was shot in the head by gunmen who broke into his home while he slept. Also, three years ago, her six-year-old cousin was shot in the head but survived after the bullet exited through her ear. She also recalls a three-year-old being shot and killed recently.


"I don't want to see it happen to anyone again, because my cousin almost died," said the highly aware teen. She also spoke strongly against the capture, criminalisation and prostitution of children her age in Uganda, Africa by indicted warlord Joseph Kony.


Winter -- who wants to be a paediatrician -- is very busy juggling being on her school's challenge quiz team, working at RISE Life, LEAP club, doing sign language and karate classes, along with her daily activities as a high school student.


Still she found time to join another group, LEAP 2 (Learning for Earning Programme), helping children there. She explained that the LEAP 2 programme is for children ages five to 15, while its mother company, LEAP, caters to persons 16 and over.


"I am a PRO, public relationships officer, and what I do is to help other children, in and around the community, to join the club. What we do is help show children how to value (respect) other people's stuff and things like that."


Though he is older than his fellow awardee, Newman was not less thrilled to have met Prince Harry.


"I am so proud to be presented with the International Diana Award. I am passionate about showing young people positive activities that they can be involved in so that they can strive for a better future," Newman told the Sunday Observer, taking a short break from his busy schedule at RISE Life where he, like Winter, tutors other students.


His mother, Rhona Rhoden, recalled her son's excited reaction when he got home after meeting the Prince. He wasn't about to keep it to himself.


"That night he went to his cousins' and friends' house, all over the place, showing them the award," a proud Rhoden said.


"He said he felt really proud knowing that he was from the innercity and shook the Prince's hand," she recalled. "I remember he was jokingly telling a girl the evening before he met the Prince that he would take her back the Prince's hand because it was worth gold," Rhoden said, laughing.


The Princess Diana award is extra special for the teen, since he also received a four-year scholarship to study at UTech in pursuance of his goal of becoming an engineer.


This is a godsend for his mother.


"Is like I am walking on a cloud," she said excitedly. "I didn't work for two days! I called everybody I know in Canada, England and US and tell them... 'You know the little boy save mi pocket?' Cause you know how hard I would have to work to send him to college?"


The single mother is a designer/dressmaker working from her inner-city home in Parade Gardens.


"When he came home and said, 'Mommy you know how I always say I want to go to UTech... I got a four-year scholarship to go there!'. Lady, I don't even know which clothes I was sewing, I just know I jump up from around the machine and start to rejoice!" Newman's mother said.


Winter and Newman have now become a part of the Diana Network, a community of over 5,000 award holders across the UK who have held their titles since the inception of the award.


The network puts winners on an international platform and supports them in voicing their causes and being ambassadors for change. Through the network, winners are allowed opportunities to volunteer, gain new skills and to put these into practice with jobs and internships both in the UK and around the world. The network also positions winners for opportunities for scholarships and travel.


Nathaniel Peat, chairman of the Jamaican Youth Diaspora UK, was key in establishing the award programme in Jamaica and believes it will help to alleviate negative international stereotypes of Jamaican youth.


"We are constantly fighting negative perceptions in the UK about Jamaican youth being involved in drugs and violence. By connecting the Diana Award to Jamaica and recognising inspirational youth, we can show the world that Jamaican young people are beacons of excellence, ready to awaken their creative potential," Peat said.


The Diana Network is supported by some of the UK's largest corporations who are partners of the UK Diana Award. In order to continue the Diana Award programme in Jamaica, local corporate partnership is being sought.


Interested parties are asked to e-mail jamaica@diana-award.org.uk for further information.


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