On the brink of collapse

On the brink of collapse

Teen Challenge Jamaica reeling from COVID-19's onslaught

Senior staff reporter

Monday, March 30, 2020

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The onslaught of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the island is about to claim another casualty — Teen Challenge Jamaica in St Ann.

The independently funded residential rehabilitation facility is facing an extraordinary test to keep its doors open as the financial crunch from the shutdowns related to COVID-19 impacts its programmes and operations.

The non-profit organisation, headed by Executive Director Anthony Richards, is dedicated to assisting people who suffer from drug, alcohol and gambling addiction.

But the likelihood of continued assistance is slim.

“I'm very very worried,” Richards expressed during an interview with the Jamaica Observer at the Walkerswood facility last Wednesday.

“Teen Challenge centres are all over the world. They are in 128 countries but one of my goals is to become self-sufficient, and in becoming self-sufficient what's going to keep our doors open [are] things like these. You will see some other projects that we have but these are the things that keep our doors open,” he added, explaining that Teen Challenge maintains itself through greenhouse farming and animal rearing.

Presently, the organisation maintains a US$25,000 greenhouse used for the growing of sweet peppers. It also oversees the rearing of approximately 40 pigs and some 3,800 broilers which, along with eggs, are to be sold to hotels, supermarkets, and churches in surrounding areas. Additionally, it operates an apiary.

“There's no market now because our markets [are] normally the supermarkets. They are still buying, [but] just a small amount. The hotels are not buying; the churches, which we sell quite a bit to, when we go to church on Sunday they are closed as well,” Richards divulged.

The Government has, in recent weeks, announced a slew of measures — including the closure of the country's borders to incoming passengers, crowd restrictions to no more than 10 people, and the closure of bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues — designed to stem the spread of the virus.

As a result, scores of hotels across the country have closed their doors while others have scaled back operations significantly.

This has slowed the sale of chickens especially, Richards shared, explaining that the facility is facing extreme pressure, having credited some $430,000 worth of feed from one of the country's leading agribusinesses.

“We're facing a big dilemma. We have few people [who] still donate but not much, so we're facing trouble big time,” he stressed, adding, “the programme is in danger. The truth is, I cannot say that I have something in place to fall back on. I'm trusting God. I am hoping that through this medium people can hear what is happening and help us because we're going to need help.”

Already, Richards has met with staff and has informed them that come next month salaries are not assured. There are eight full-time staff members.

“We might crash. I don't know what will happen to the students in the programme. We didn't bargain for this, so, to be honest, I don't have a plan B. I don't have a plan B and some of them have no home, so where will we send them?” he questioned, mentioning that some 20 students will be affected, including those from the United States, Suriname, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Grenada.

Richards, himself a recovering crack/cocaine addict, is appealing to corporate Jamaica for assistance, stressing that “COVID-19 has knocked us for six”.

“The fact that the work that we do is humanitarian, people buy our goods just because they want to support us, and COVID-19 has caused huge problems. It's tough; it's tough,” said Richards.

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