BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor -- Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixteen year-old Tajay Reid may have died from the multiple chop wounds he received from the man who caught him breaking into a house. But, for some residents of Wheelerfield in St Thomas, the lack of employment and poverty in this deep rural community are equally to blame for this tragedy.
Scores of young boys and girls idle their days away as parents are unable to afford the minimum $800 daily required to send them
to Seaforth High School. The result is that scores of them drop out of school at the all-age level.
Reid was one such dropout because his mother, Elizabeth Fisher, said she just could not afford to send him to high school when he completed grade nine at Bath All-Age and Junior High in 2011. As such, he was left to roam the streets while she stayed in Portland to work at the Buff Bay coffee farm.
With only seasonal jobs available in this cane belt area of the parish, Fisher said Reid's father also could not find work, and so she left the children in his care.
"Me never have di money fi send him go so far fi school and so him just couldn't go," she said of the fifth of her seven children.
She was, however, hopeful when her son was accepted in a three-month skills-building initiative, dubbed 'Out of School Youth', co-ordinated by the HIV/STI prevention arm of the South East Regional Health Authority.
However, when the programme, which was being held at the Wheelerfield community centre, ended, Reid was unable to continue at Heart/NTA as was required, since there was no money to pay the daily taxi fare.
With nothing else to do, it didn't take long for Reid to run into one scrape after the other. However, things came to a head three weeks ago. As scores of residents gathered at a wake for a man who was stabbed to death by another member of the community, Reid is said to have sneaked into the house of a female cousin.
According to residents, the boyfriend of that cousin surprised Reid in the house and began chopping him all over his body. He was rushed to the Princess Margaret Hospital and transferred the next day to the Kingston Public Hospital where he died.
Reid's mother said she is still unable to come to grips with her son's death at the hand of a man who is his father's best friend.
"Every day Demus (Reid's father) and (the accused) ah ride up and dung pon bike, and so me cuss wid him and say di time yu ah ride up and down with... yu fi go look work, and so me caan believe it," she said, looking off into the distance.
A resident who identified himself as Damian said although Reid was a school dropout, he was a very intelligent young man. He cited instances when Reid was able to pen a letter on his father's behalf when he could not go to collect his pay.
"Taj was very bright, articulate and had great potential," he said, adding, "many people in the community dem saying is di wrong youth dead."
The community, he said, has been tense as residents are unable to wrap their heads around this tragedy so close to the one which had occurred earlier.
"We just having the nine-night fi a youth weh a man next door stab up and on that same night Tajay get chop up, so now the entire community is unsettled," Damian said.
Residents, he said, want their member of parliament Dr Fenton Ferguson and the councillor, Ludlow Mattison, to pay some attention to the joblessness and lack of opportunities for young people.
Reid's aunt, Antoinette Fisher, said she was always saddened to see that Reid was unable to complete his education, given his potential.
"Him always say to me, 'Aunty, me have dreams, you know', but me never really ask him what him did want fi do in life," she told the Observer North East.
She said he was very distraught when he realised that his education would be cut short due to his parents' inability to send him to Seaforth High.
But there was nothing she herself could have done, as, being unemployed and having her own son to send to school meant there was very little to go around.
"Is just the little shop wey me run, and a $800 a day me haffi give me son fi go school and most ah dat a fare because ah three vehicle him haffi tek fi get to school," she said.
Pointing to scores of young people playing a game of cards under a tree, Antoinette Fisher said many of them are school dropouts, as the persons in this area of Jamaica only receive short-term employment during sugar crop time.
But resident Junior Augustine, who had taken Reid under his wing in recent times, lamented the lack of parental support for many of the young men in the community.
"Round here need some curvement (control) with the youth, because dem parents no business with them and majority ah dem nah go school," he said.
This, he said, was the reason he went the extra mile to look out for Reid, but said that was still not enough to save him.
He said he was planning to expand his small cook shop business this year in order to offer stable employment to Reid, who was always willing to work for him.
"Him used to wash up the pot dem and ting and me give him food and some money," he said, adding "him coulda read good and if him did get the opportunity him could make something of himself."
Augustine, too, wants to see their political representatives coming to the community to identify areas where they can help.
"We no see dem come and say let me help set up a skills training, and look, the whole a de bwoy dem here when dem should be at school," he said, pointing to the large group of young people hanging out in a yard.
Augustine, who said he wished he could help more of these youth, said he is saddened that the only activity the young people are engaging in is ganja smoking.
"A lot of them can read good, but with nothing to do dem just hang out on the road and when dem get hungry dem go tief two breadfruit or a banana and so you soon hear say people chop up more ah dem," he said.
At the Wheelerfield programme, of which Reid was one of several participants and the youngest, community peer educator Kenesha McCooty-Sealey said he showed great interest in learning electrical and tile production.
But while he never missed a day at the skills training programme, McCooty-Sealey said unfortunately he could not continue with the certification at Heart/NTA when the project ended, as he was unable to find the taxi fare.
"He was the first person accepted into the programme and was such a quiet person, which is why it came as such a shock to us when we heard the news," McCooty-Sealey said.
More stories from Observer North & East