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Mom: I was not planning to bury my son

More concern over funeral arrangements for deceased Clan Carthy boy

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 17, 2019

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Japhene Campbell, the mother of seven-year-old Benjamin Bair who was last month crushed to death by an unmanned garbage truck while at school, has expressed her dissatisfaction with the lack of financial support from the school towards her son's funeral.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday, Campbell was adamant that she needs answers from the school as to why her son is dead. The mother argued that while the truck driver has been charged, the school also needs to give a full account of why the truck was allowed onto the compound while children were still present.

“I am still in denial. I need more answers from the school for why my son is dead,” said a distraught mother, still rocked by her son's untimely passing.

“Why was a truck on the school premises? The truck driver was arrested but what about the person who called that truck to the school property when children were there. Why didn't the truck driver tell the children to run, before him run gone and make mi baby dead. That is murder to me,” Campbell declared.

“The truck driver and the school are to be blamed. It is so unfair,” she added.

In the meantime, Campbell said that while she has to be coping with the loss of her only son, funeral preparation has been all the more difficult since the Ministry of Education has, according to her, been slow to make good on its promise to cover the expenses.

Campbell, who works as a security guard, explained that she has been relying on family members to offset costs related to the 'nine night' and 'dead yard', since grief has crippled her ability to work.

“Right now mi owe a bill of $25,000 and not even a dollar mi get from the school. They promised that they would assist me with the nine night and I never hear back from them. My family has to be using money out of their pocket for everything,” Campbell told the Sunday Observer.

“I play the role of a mother and father and I am unable to work because I am having serious migraines, and I can't sleep and am not eating much. I have to be taking sleeping pill and seeing a psychiatrist but, that cyah help,” said Campbell.

“It come like is just wah day mi carry Benjamin go to school. I consider school to be a safer place than my home. When the superintendent come and tell mi say mi son never make it, I couldn't understand. The words just never make sense. This could not be my son Benjamin,” the mother lamented.

As the tragedy of Benjamin's death shook the country, members of the political arena, including minister with responsibility for Education, Karl Samuda, as well as minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, pledged their support to Campbell.

Campbell said word had come from the Ministry of Education by way of Sheldon Richards, the principal of Clan Carthy Primary.

Richards, she explained, had initially told her that the ministry would cover all funeral expenses, but that in a recent meeting, he told her that the ministry would only cover some of the cost.

“The principal told me from early on that he reached out to the Ministry of Education and they said that they would cover all the funeral expenses. That was the word-of-mouth I passed on to the funeral home and to my family members.

“Now he is apologising and telling me that they will only pay for the casket, the keeping of the body, and for the hearse to take it out, and that is it. No church, no buttons, just those things,” Campbell reported, after having met with the principal of Friday.

“My son suffered such a horrible death while he was at school, where, once his is there, he is their responsibility. I was not planning to bury my son, and now they are saying the family has to cover some expenses,” Campbell said.

In that meeting, Campbell said she was told that she would be given a commitment letter to take to the funeral home. This, however, did not assuage the mother's uncertainty about how other related costs would be covered.

In a phone conversation with the Sunday Observer later that day, Richards explained that Campbell's concerns were relayed to the ministry and that a decision was taken to meet with her again to determine what other costs the Ministry could assist with.

“From last week I personally informed Miss Campbell as to how those expenses would be covered, so for me that isn't even something that we need to re visit. She is fully aware of that. I have expressed her concerns to the ministry and they have been very understanding and willing to assist. As I said to her in the meeting today, I would express her concerns to the ministry. I have done that and the ministry has obliged to having a meeting set up. I am in the process of getting in touch with her to see if this can happen on Monday,” said Richards.

“The ministry had made it clear initially, that they will assist in a particular way, which was indicated to Miss Campbell the moment I was informed. The ministry has committed to covering all the cost that the funeral home will indicate. These costs do not include nine-night,” he added.

Samuda also told the Sunday Observer that a commitment letter would be prepared, and that the ministry will await the invoices from the funeral home.“The ministry will undertake the cost of the funeral, and will give whatever assistance is normally given under those circumstances,” Samuda reassured.

So far, however, Campbell said that support for her son's nine-night has only come from Mark Golding, Member of Parliament for the St Andrew Southern constituency where she lives.

An unlikely source of financial support has also come from Tremayne Brown, the dubbed Trench Town hero, who in 2018 rescued a youngster from raging waters in a gully. Brown, who recently launched his own foundation, gave Campbell $10,000 to assist with funeral expenses.

In the meantime, Campbell insists that the school should also be held responsible for her son's death.

“I need the assistance, but I want to state this clearly, somebody needs to be held responsible for my son's death. The school said they would meet with me and that they would try to answer my questions. The Children's Advocate came and took a statement, but that was it. The whole world and Jamaica needs to know Benjamin's worth,” said Campbell.

In that regard, Richards re-emphasised his regret at Benjamin's bizarre death, and pledged the school community's continued moral support even after her son's funeral.

“I am sorry and we are doing everything we can, but we have our limits too. Whilst we are there with her, we will go visit her, we will help in whatever way we can, we acknowledge that this is not something a mother could prepare for,” Richards said.

“And it is not a case where we will ever stop being there for her. We remain committed now, we will be there for her. A commitment letter is standard procedure. The Government doesn't usually pay out in cash. So as long as the funeral home is certified, there will be no challenge with a commitment letter,” he added.

Richards also sought to clarify Campbell's query about an insurance policy at the school, which parents are asked to pay in case of accidents involving their children while they are in the school's care.

“We do have an insurance scheme. The insurance company and the school are working to determine what is the position where that is concerned,” said Richards.

Campbell reminisced in anguish about her son Benjamin, whom she said was a tall boy of his age, likely to have done well at any sport.

“Him used to tell mi, 'Mommy, I want to be a doctor when I grow up', but I always think he would play a sport because he was a very tall boy for a seven-year-old. Sometimes mi used to look pon him and say to myself how him soon grow past mi and mi haffi guh look up inna him face. But mi cyah say that now,” Campbell lamented.

Also, Benjamin's sister, Campbell explained, has been asking for her brother. “She is eight years old so she don't understand what dead mean. What am I to tell her when she asks for her brother,” she continued.

“He was such a disciplined boy, well loved at school. Him never forget to tell you good morning. If Benjamin did sick and him dead, mi wouldn't feel it so but, he was at school. I didn't send him to school. I took him to school that morning. My son was right where he was supposed to be, in the waiting area. Look how far the truck come and kill my baby. The last thing I can remember is when him wave goodbye to me. I would give anything to have my baby back.

“My eyes are dry but I am crying inside. There is no more tears left to dry. Mi need back my baby. I would give anything to get back my baby,” Campbell groaned.


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