BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor at Large, South Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The testimonials were the highlight of the evening, providing fascinating listening.
May Day High student Orlando Josephs told the audience packed into the Cecil Charlton Hall of how he “used to get angry for the simplest things”.
Gradually, he said, the 12-month ‘Youth at Risk’ Empowerment Programme conducted by the Community Counselling and Restorative Justice Centre of the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) helped him to control his anger and to “conduct myself properly”.
Joseph’s schoolmate, Liana Barrett, had similar anger problems. She said she was also stubborn and unruly. But during the empowerment programme she learnt self-control, how to deal with peer pressure and is now better able to study.
“I have changed,” she said simply.
Bored at first by the Young Fathers Empowerment Programme, Javan Farquharson eventually found he was on a “life-changing” course.
“I learnt that having a baby is serious business,” he said, “I learnt that as a young man I don’t want to be labelled as DNA — Daddy Not Available”.
A parent for 19 years, Luraine Goulbourne couldn’t believe there was so much about parenting she didn’t know. After several sessions of a Parent Empowerment Seminar, it dawned on her that “children have rights too”. She learnt to “listen and talk” to her children and that she could use various forms of punishment instead of “licking and cussing”.
And, as if all that was not enough, the scores of graduates of the various empowerment courses — the youth (teenagers), young fathers and (older) parents as well as their guests — heard another testimonial from an unexpected quarter.
Obviously touched by all he had heard, master of ceremonies, Patrick George Smith told of his own experience of growing up in war-torn Jones Town more than 20 years ago. “I studied under my mother’s bed while bullets whistled overhead,” he told his audience.
He graduated from Ardenne High in Kingston and found himself at NCU in Mandeville, which was “so clean and pristine”, and never looked back.
His own life, said Smith, provided the evidence that what was important was not “where you lay your head, it’s what is in your head”.
Graduates of the empowerment programmes, including those troubled children who had set about transforming their lives, should “keep walking one step at a time in the direction you are headed”, said Smith.
The empowerment programmes, run since 2010 by the nine-year-old Community Counselling and Restorative Justice System, have so far trained over 600 children, young men and parents. The 2011/12 programmes got financial support from the World Bank worth US$8,000.
Organisers say the training programmes are aimed at developing better educated, well-informed parents; building stronger, more supportive, responsible families; improving parental effectiveness; reducing teenage pregnancies, and abuse and neglect of children and youth; developing stronger sense of self, and a greater commitment towards selfdevelopment; decreasing teenage delinquency, and the crime rate; as well as the number of ‘at-risk youth’.
At the recent graduation, NCU President Dr Trevor Gardner said the university was committed to continuing outreach programmes, such as those run by the Community Counselling and Restorative Justice Centre (CCRJC) as part of its drive to help in shaping the “destiny of the greater Mandeville Region”.
Several speakers heaped praise on the university, the CCRJC and its director Merylyn Campbell-Flinch for their work. Member of Parliament for Central Manchester Peter Bunting handed over a symbolic cheque and pledged to provide $250,000 from his Constituency Development Fund for the empowerment programmes.
Bunting hailed NCU for not only being content with being “part of the community but for becoming an integral partner of the community”.
Guest speaker Dr Newton Cleghorne, dean of the NCU’s School of Religion and Theology, noted that the “ravages of slavery” were still to be seen, manifested in ways such as irresponsible parenting. It meant that outreach training such as the empowerment programmes were essential for community and national development.
It was imperative that mothers teach their sons to respect women and to care for their children. “A man is a man because he stands up for what is right,” said Cleghorne.
Parents should understand, he declared, that “your job is not done until our girls become ladies and our boys become gentlemen.”