The heroes who step up for special needs

The heroes who step up for special needs


Monday, October 07, 2019

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It was Therese Turner Jones, Inter-American Development Bank Caribbean manager, who noted that most of us will be 'special needs' at some point in our lives. Whether by illness or injury, there will be a time when we will need someone to help us through basic, everyday activities.

My first experience of special needs happened when my active, brilliant father became stricken with a crippling condition called ankylosing spondylitis at 40 years old. This was the Dad who took us to school in the mornings, to the library on Saturdays, to the theatre. This Royal Air Force veteran showed us how to polish our shoes until they shone brightly. He was the go-to tax expert, having spent long nights studying to become a chartered accountant.

Confined to a wheelchair, Dad moved his office to our home, continuing his business until his passing 10 years later. Kenny Benjamin, who was then an accountant with Capleton & Jones, recalls taking files to Dad to be audited. Such was the respect his colleagues had for him.

Some folks would raise their voices when addressing Dad and he would gently explain, “Just because I am in a wheelchair doesn't make me hard of hearing.” It was during Dad's journey as a special needs person that we met some heroes: Professor John Golding, who would emerge more than once from long hours of Dad's surgery to reassure my worried mother; Howard Aris, who would pick up Dad, take him to his facility at Tangerine Place for exercises, and take him back home without charging a cent for transportation; and Bob Brown, a fireman who lived across the street, always willing to help with lifting Dad.

There are so many unsung heroes who affirm and support special needs individuals. The parents of Jeneard and Youlando Williamson can be counted among them. Their two children were born with a condition that affects their lower limbs, so they use wheelchairs. Jeneard is one of the hardest working members of the Digicel Foundation team, ever punctual, ever cordial. Youlando Williamson, who works with Digicel corporate and is also wheelchair bound, has the same reputation.

The parents of our special needs sisters and brothers are some of the most dedicated Jamaicans I have ever met. Lorna Bell, head of Special Olympics for the English-speaking Caribbean, shares that the parents in her organisation support not only their children but also the entire Special Olympics community.

Many do not realise that our Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was the first organisation to take on fund-raising for Special Olympics with the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Deputy Superintendent Cosford Cole of St Elizabeth has been growing and selling watermelons for decades with all proceeds going to the Special Olympics.

It was Assistant Commissioner Neville Wheatle who asked me to reach out to Digicel in 2002 for sponsorship of the JCF Torch Run. That was divine intervention, because we found out that Digicel Chairman Denis O'Brien had a passion for special needs, and was chairman of the Special Olympics World Games to be staged in Ireland the following year. Not only did the JCF receive support for their Torch Run, but also our Jamaican Special Olympians had the red carpet rolled out for them in Ireland.

Special needs became one of the three pillars of the Digicel Foundation, launched in 2004, and with the roll-out of 10 centres of excellence islandwide, partnerships with Early Stimulation Plus (ESP), an agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Education and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), awareness has been raised about the rights and value of the members of our special needs community. The latest campaign with UNICEF declares for our differently abled community, “I Can” and “I am fearless”. Indeed, these are important affirmations which can bolster the ambition and focus of every Jamaican.

Our “Mommy Rocket”

Speaking of focus, we congratulate the athletes from the Jamaica team who medalled in the Doha IAAF World Championships, but one stands above the rest. She is Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce aka “Mommy Rocket”, now lauded as the fastest woman in the world, having blazed out of the start to run the 100-metre event in 10.71 seconds. As she strode with our flag in post-race triumph, she was handed her two-year-old son Zyon, a photo opportunity that filled sports pages the world over. How could anyone resist this super mom and her uber cute baby?

To top it off, Shelly-Ann ran a supreme leg in the 4 x 100m women's relay on Saturday. Every Jamaican had to be on their feet to run that amazing race with our women, as they flew around the track. What an explosive team, finishing far ahead of the competition. Congratulations to Shelly-Ann, Natalliah Whyte, Jonielle Smith, and Shericka Jackson!

At press time, Jamaica (population 2.9 million) was third on the medal table behind USA (population 327.2 million) and Kenya (population 49.7 million) and in a tie with China (population 1.386 billion). This is an extraordinary result and we should be proud of our achievers, including those who did not medal. We can, and we did!

Access to information

When Dionne Jackson Miller sought the Cabinet records of discussions leading to the deportation of Guyana-born UWI lecturer Walter Rodney in the 1970s, it seemed to have triggered the tabling of a resolution by the Government to limit the release of such information, from 20 to 70 years after the date of enquiry.

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) led protests immediately against the resolution. President George Davis issued a statement and did not mince words in a television interview on the Government's actions. Social media posts were rampant and finally, the Government decided to withdraw the resolution.

The concerted outcry and Government's response are reminders of Jamaica's very solid democracy. It makes me proud of my country.

Rest in Peace, young Kyle

Ten days ago, nine-year-old Kyle Richards was washed away by flood waters in August Town. The tragedy brought the community together as they searched day and night for the child, whose body was found in Harbour View three days later. The child's aunt, while mourning Kyle, said she had never before seen that level of unity in August Town, and pleaded with her fellow residents to keep the peace. What a beautiful thing for August Town to do, in memory of Kyle.

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