TO the average passer-by there is nothing special about the appearance of the Sunbeam Children's Home.
In fact, at first glance, the building, with dusty windows and pale-coloured walls, located at the side of a long unpaved dirt track in Nightingale Grove — a farming community in St Catherine — appears to be an old empty structure where not much is happening.
A closer look at the facility, however, reveals that not only is there life budding behind the closed doors, but unknown to many it is an institution that is quietly changing the lives of some of the most vulnerable and abused children in St Catherine.
The Sunbeam Children's Home, located on approximately five acres of land, caters to almost 40 boys, some of whom were abandoned by their family members.
"The home was established for boys who were living in the streets of Jamaica. It is an institution founded on Christian principles, and we are focused on making these boys into valuable young men when they leave and re-enter the general society," said Manager Desmond Whitley.
The institution is sponsored by the Sunbeam Association for Mission (SAM) in Minnesota, United States of America, but Whitley said that, while the organisation continued to change lives, there were a number of factors hindering the home from operating at its full potential.
Topping the list is the lack of proper funding to the institution.
"We are a private institution, so government funding is little. We rely on funding from private institutions, namely SAM, which is responsible for us. The funding does help as we cater to boys, each with a different problem," Whitley said.
He said that to address this setback, overseas funding is used to purchase furniture and materials or the boys. A portion of the funds is also used to supply the boys with lunch money to attend school on a daily basis. He was determined that, although funding from government may be minimal, the organisation sees its effort as a ministry and was steadfast in its operations.
Whitley also had concerns about the deplorable road condition that is causing serious health problems for the boys.
"The road has been in that bad state for many years. As a result, some of our boys have developed sinusitis and have had serious asthma attacks. Some have even developed lesions on their skin from the dust. At one point it was so bad that you could write your name [in the dust] all over the place," Whitley said.
A smile, however, flashed across the face of the manager when he explained that, despite the challenge, the boys have managed to achieve outstanding academic performances over the years.
"When we get these boys, most times their education is at basic school level. However, we have trained teachers and counsellors who plan and work with them to get them to an acceptable state," Whitley said.
Some of the boys, he said, have received excellent passes in the Grade Six Achievement Test and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations, while holding leadership positions at school.
"We have boys who get passes to top schools like Kingston College and St George's College. Education is one of our top priorities," he added.
Whitley said, too, that through its ministry, counselling and socialisation efforts, Sunbeam has managed to convert the boys to Christian lifestyles.
Last week, during a visit to the home, a number of boys were seen walking proudly from school to the boys' home, some displaying prefect badges. According to a supervisor at the home, this was evidence of responsibility and good leadership skills. The supervisor added that, because of the level of discipline at the home, there was no need for high level security.
"Our boys are leaders and they are responsible, they don't run away. Even if they do, they return within a day or even a few hours. We can trust them, and we allow them to walk on the roads. They are the ones who keep the gate keys," Whitley said, in a confident tone.