Olympian efforts to make Jamaica a place of safety


Monday, January 22, 2018

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I can write volumes about our experience 30 years ago with a so-called place of safety for children. We had decided to adopt a second child and were told that we could visit the baby boy who was being kept at a 'place of safety' until our home could be passed for his relocation as the first step of the process.

We fell in love with the sweet four-week-old and were concerned that he was so congested and that he was not being changed often enough. We were permitted to take him to the doctor and filled his prescription. We brought the medicine, diapers and other items to ensure that he was well supplied.

You can imagine our distress when we discovered by the next day that all the items, including the medicine, had been stolen. We had to visit more frequently to give him his regular dosage and change him ourselves.

The facility was a disgrace. We learned to jump up the steps quickly because they were crawling with insects at night.

We were relieved when we could finally take our baby home; so sick was he that over the next three months he had to be on several courses of antibiotics.

We felt sorry for the manager of the home, a nurse who seemed frustrated in her efforts to manage the staff. Within that year, perhaps due to our and other complaints, that so-called place of safety, located on the lower end of Lady Musgrave Road, was closed.

For us, the story has a happy ending, as our son Noel, now a protective six-footer and a manager in our business, is looking forward to the celebration of his 30th birthday this week.

For Anna Kay Moreland and Anika McCrea, who perished in the fire at Walker's Place of Safety last week, their story had the most tragic of endings. The wringing of hands reminds us of what followed the fire at Armadale Correctional Centre in 2009 which took the lives of seven teenaged girls.

We are not judging the staff at Walker's Place of Safety, because we understand that some of these institutions can barely make ends meet with the resources they have. However, we must judge ourselves who call ourselves leaders in this country. Whether we are members of the private or public sector, we have to become more committed and passionate about the well-being of our fellow Jamaicans, particularly the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Too little is being done and too slowly. It is up to us to push the envelope on child safety. The donations are important, but these should be followed up with urgent action. The victims of the Armadale fire had to wait seven long years before damages were awarded.

'We are at war with ourselves'

If we do not look to the protection of our children, whether in institutions, at home, in school or on the street, we will never be able to solve Jamaica's crime problem. If children are ill-treated, we cannot expect humane behaviour from them when they become adults.

In his stirring message at last week's National Leadership Prayer Breakfast, Rev Astor Carlyle noted: “Warm and generous are the words our visitors use to describe us, but the homicide figures show that we are at war with ourselves.”

He challenged Jamaicans to move out of their self-serving comfort zones: “When institutions and office bearers of healing and accompaniment misappropriate the trust vested in us to satisfy our selfish lust, then we are a people at odds with ourselves indeed .. a daunting side of the Jamaican reality.”

Since the start of the year we have seen the result of our inactivity and insensitivity as we have lost count of the number of murders committed. We support the state of emergency in Montego Bay, but we know it did not have to come to this — too many wrongdoers have hypocritical supporters in high places. No state of emergency will have long-term results necessary to achieve change if the thug-hugging does not stop.

Step up with sports

Jamaica cannot be prouder of our National Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year Alia Atkinson and Omar McLeod. At last Friday's RJRGleaner National Sports Awards they both spoke passionately about perseverance and hard work, faith, and the ability to handle failure. McLeod noted that our sports stars were so outstanding that one had to be an international champion to win the Jamaican honour.

We heartily applauded Veronica Campbell Brown for receiving the Iconic Award. We were moved by the tears of this humble but determined warrior of athletics who has earned more medals than even the great Usain Bolt. We also noted the patriotic dedication of Don Anderson, recipient of the Chairman's Award, who was Jamaica's Olympic chef de mission for six consecutive Olympic Games.

We applauded loudly for Special Olympian gold medallists Dave Oddman and Romaine Austin, both speed skaters on ice, awarded for their outstanding performances in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games, held in Austria. Austin's gold was the first ever for a Jamaican performing on ice, related Lorna Bell, untiring Special Olympics Jamaica executive director.

How then, can we infuse these great qualities to heal our wounded nation? There may be a solution staring us in our faces, as so brilliantly outlined by GraceKennedy CEO Senator Don Wehby. He referred to the sports section of Jamaica's Vision 2030, outlining a dynamic national plan for sports, including 'sports for peace'. He had us sitting up and listening keenly.

“The United Nations recognises the practice of sport as an instrument for promoting peace,” said Senator Wehby, “and for playing a significant role as a promoter of social integration and economic development. I strongly believe that sports can play a larger role in Jamaica's fight against crime.”

He made the following points:

“It has an ability to unify people in a way that is unbelievable. When you look at the crowds that gather in Half-Way-Tree when Jamaica is about to perform on the world stage —every man, woman and child is out there some with their pot covers, and all are dressed in their Jamaican colours united to cheer on their champions... one Jamaica, united with love and passion.

“It serves as a positive outlet for the youth, providing a channel for expression, building friendships, and can deter risky behaviour. It shows what can be achieved through hard work, determination, self-belief and fair play.

“It facilitates social development in under-resourced communities. There are so many community sports clubs around Jamaica with opportunities to nurture the interest of the youth and for harnessing talent. These clubs need visionary partners and financial support in order to become sustainable sources of social reform in their respective communities. Public-private partnerships can work when we begin to see these associations as viable business opportunities.”

The power of sports will have North and South Korea marching under one flag for the Winter Olympics — what a message for this tiny country Jamaica. Let's get serious about sports for peace.




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