Bridge to a better life
JSIF programme helping 30 families
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
A project being undertaken by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is empowering several impoverished families in St Thomas and Portland to improve their standard of living.
Beneficiaries of the programme said not only have they been motivated to dream big but they are already taking steps to learn a skill or start their own small businesses.
Thirty families — 10 each from St Thomas, Portland and Trelawny — were selected to benefit from training, housing assistance and income-generating initiatives under the Bridge Jamaica Programme.
Project manager at JSIF Nakia McMorris told the Jamaica Observer North East that social workers are assigned to help the families on a one-on-one basis.
The families, she said, are all beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and were randomly selected from parishes which ranked the poorest on the Planing Institute of Jamaica poverty rating.
According to McMorris, the programme has been built on seven main pillars, namely education and training, health, family dynamics, income, employment, housing and disaster management, and acquiring personal identification.
One component of the programme is to expose the families to a life outside of their deep rural communities in a bid to motivate them to aspire to greater things.
"Under the family dynamics component we try to expose them to other things in Jamaica as they tend not to see beyond where they are from and the intention is for them to see they can achieve beyond," McMorris said.
Another aspect of the family dynamic component is teaching the beneficiaries to be better parents.
"We show them alternative ways of disciplining their children other than beating them; like having more informed discussions with their children," she said.
Beneficiary Verona Smith of Font Hill in St Thomas said the programme is not only improving her standard of life but has made her a better mother.
"I used to be aggressive at my kids but I learn about anger management and how best to talk to my kids, even if I am angry, and not to love one more than the other," the 27-year-old mother of two told the Observer North East.
Added to that, Smith said her life was on a downhill slide when she was introduced to the programme and this has since helped her to refocus on her goals.
"Before the programme I was up and down on the streets getting in cuss cuss and fights, but the anger management helped me, so now I take care of my children to the point that people are now saying I am the best mother," she said proudly.
According to Smith, she recently turned down the offer of a live-in domestic work in the city as she is no longer willing to leave her children with just about anyone.
"Because of what learn about child abuse I am keeping them close to me," she said.
She also spoke glowingly about the level of exposure the programme has afforded her.
"They took us out to fancy places like hotels and to the zoo. We also got the exposure of going into churches and schools to talk to the people," Smith said.
Additionally, Smith said she benefited significantly from the workshops as she received training in disaster management, sexually transmitted infections, drug abuse and childcare, among other pertinent issues.
"We take the teaching and carry to our district and talk to residents and let them understand for example the dangers of dumping garbage in the river and also there are a lot of young smokers and drunkards and so I educate them on how long-term smoking and drinking can make your inside look and when I show them the pictures I got they are shocked to know this is what is happening to them," she said.
The Font Hill resident said she also helped to dispel some myths among young people, especially in the area of sexually transmitted diseases.
Smith said she has been able to relay the message to fellow residents with great ease because she enjoys communicating with others.
"Mi might see a little group and mi stop and talk to them and others will stop and join the group because they want to hear what wi talking about," she explained.
Smith said she also learnt about chicken and pig rearing and was able to share valuable tips with community members who are already engaged in the trade.
"The Ministry of Health had said things like the latrine was not supposed to be too close to the coop and the slaughter house was supposed to be at a different area so they don't lock them down, and so I was able to share some things with them which have been useful," she said.
Smith said she has always wanted to be a hairdresser and was looking forward to being a part of the cosmetology programme offered by the project, but this was shelved because there were not enough candidates.
She is, however, equally optimistic at the prospect of getting accepted in the food and nutrition and housekeeping programme. "I took the test and pass; just waiting on them to get back to me.
The programme also offered her the opportunity to establish her own small business, as a number of participants will be selected to receive a start-up in either chicken or pig rearing. She explained that the project paid for the cost of their food handler's permit and for them to be registered with the Jamaica Agricultural Society.
"If I am selected I will get young chicks and feed to start off and they will help me to build a coop," she said.
Smith further explained that there are persons in the programme who are unable to read and she has always been there to lend some assistance.
"I just love to help others and they help me, so I will always help others," she said with a bright smile, adding "at the end I wish with all God's help and blessings that I can prosper so I can help others just like JSIF has helped me."
Another beneficiary, Coraleen Thompson of Pear Tree River in St Thomas, said the programme has exposed her to a lot.
"It really helped me as I went to places I never dream of going such as one of the hotel which I can't even call (pronounce) the name and they take the kids and other members of the family also to the zoo," she said. "As big as me be at age 42 me never know zoo."
Thompson said she also benefited a lot from the workshops on subject areas she never knew about.
"I learn about fire drills and how to prevent a fire if you have a cylinder on fire and how to care for your district and to keep it clean and not dump rubbish and then we come and teach others," she told the Observer North East.
"If me see a person doing something they shouldn't do I call and tell them that is wrong and why it is wrong," she said.
Thompson, who said she hopes to be able to establish a pig rearing business, had wanted to apply to do the course in catering or drapery making but had been unable to at the time as she was caring for her grandchild. However, now that the situation has changed she is looking forward to learning a skill so she can make a better living to care for her family.
For now she only sells snacks, but Thompson said her love for baking would help greatly if she received certification in catering.
"I want to be able to do my own business and be able to help others," she said.
She, too, says the programme has helped her to be a much better parent.
"I have learnt that when the kids come to you, don't run them. The programme help me to sit down and talk to them and I wish other women would benefit from it," said the mother of four.
Meanwhile, the JSIF project manager said the Caribbean Development Bank-funded programme comes to an end in June and funding has not yet been secured for its continuation. However, McMorris is hopeful that it can continue, given its success thus far.