THREE young men who, in the past, were characterised as 'at-risk youth' from volatile and vulnerable communities, have now joined the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and are committed to the nation's fight against crime and violence.
Last year, the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the JDF for hundreds of at-risk youth to receive on-the-job training in the force.
The three young men were involved in this programme, which the CSJP reports as one of their most successful and productive initiatives. Under the programme, the youngsters completed vocational skills training and worked alongside soldiers in the JDF's Engineering Regiment.
"I am extremely excited and very proud of the accomplishments of these three men. It just shows what determination can do. It also proves to me that there are other youngsters like them who have potential, and all they need is an opportunity," said senior community action officer with the CSJP, Denise Adams.
Nehru Brown, now Private Brown, recalled how he and others initially viewed the programme and how he was transformed.
"We went to an orientation at Cassia Park Community Centre, and for most of us it was very hard to work with soldiers, because we are not accustomed to people telling us what to do. Later we started to see their way of life and that they were not just men with big guns. They are disciplined persons, so I got more interested," he said.
He said that he was encouraged by some soldiers to use his skill, which is electrical technology, and to join the army where he could make a positive contribution.
"I was given an opportunity to do the test, passed it, but still was not interested in becoming a soldier. When I got the official call, I really gave it some thought and finally accepted. I believe it is one of the biggest steps I have made thus far," Private Brown said.
He said that participating in the CSJP has catapulted him into a future that he never dreamed about.
In addition to providing job experience, the programme has also changed the way participants view the security forces.
"Some of the soldiers were my mentors. The transformation for me from a civilian to a member of the JDF is a great feeling, thanks to the CSJP," confessed Private Brian McKenzie, another CSJP participant. He is from Mountain View in Eastern St Andrew.
For Private Jermaine Ellis, joining the JDF means that he can now provide for his family, and he is seen as a respected member of his community.
"Persons congratulate me, and others express how proud they are. That has made a tremendous difference in my life," he said.
Privates Ellis, Brown and McKenzie said that they are eternally grateful to the CSJP, and encourage other youngsters to get involved in the programmes that are made available to them through the CSJP and other social groups.
Meanwhile, Adams said that for the CSJP's JDF initiative, the motto is: 'If you come as a chicken, you leave as an eagle'.
"I believe these young men have actualised that motto. I just want to say to other young people that the sky is the limit. However, you have to be determined and have a desire to achieve a goal. I always tell my youngsters that it is not about how you start the race, instead it is about how determined you are to finish it. In spite of the financial struggles and setbacks, you have to be determined and resilient to defy the odds," she said.