Deer continues to shoot for Reggae Girlz
AFTER long playing second fiddle to their male counterparts, Jamaica's Reggae Girlz have been grabbing a sizeable chunk of the limelight, thanks to the support of interested parties in the Jamaican diaspora.
One such individual is Lavern Deer, the president of Jamaica International Female Football Development (JIFFD), an entity committed to garnering support for the Reggae Girlz within the Jamaican community living overseas.
Deer, a United States resident who left Jamaica at age nine, works on special projects for the Broward County Government in Florida.
She has used that reach to telling effect in the southern US state, building awareness from the female football movement.
"I knew that if I was going to get the direct help I needed, I had to start an awareness," Deer told the Sunday Observer recently as she sat in the Estadio Panamericano to watch the senior Reggae Girlz dismantle hosts Dominican Republic 7-0, en route to progression to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Cup Finals.
The senior women's team was making a return to international football after several years' absence, forced on the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) as a result of financial constraints.
"Ninety per cent of Jamaicans outside of Jamaica did not know that Jamaica had a Reggae Girlz programme, so the first thing I had to do was to get the awareness going by inviting the business community, even elected officials, the congress woman and the congressman, the local government and Jamaican-based businesses. By bringing them all together at the same table they could all see and hear the needs of the girls," Deer added.
Deer said she became actively involved in 2012.
"I got a phone call in 2011 from an interested party in Jamaica who was trying to do some fund-raising for the girls. I have the know-how, and knowing how to pull on my community, I knew that I would be able to galvanise support within the diaspora and showcase some of the issues that the girls were faced with.
"I started in 2012 and spent much of 2012 doing my research between Jamaica and the US, trying to understand the diaspora in the US, as well as the community in Jamaica. In 2013, I started the foundation JIFFD."
Having a bachelor's degree in health care administration, medical experience in paediatrics and being a licensed X-ray technician, Deer said her approach was largely from a social and health angle.
"I learned and recognised that females aged 15-24 contributed to the highest pregnancy and STD [sexually transmitted diseases] rates in Jamaica. My background is in health care, so of course that touched my heart and I was able to go back and share that story within the diaspora, and then it moved their heart in joining me in giving support to the
Her actions have not gone unnoticed.
Deer has been nominated for a community service award by the Consul General of Jamaica/south Florida. The Diaspora honour will be handed out at the Jamaica Independence Gala Ceremony in Florida on August 2.
The help for the Reggae Girlz has not been a one-woman show. Deer's campaign caught the attention of Cedella Marley, the daughter of late reggae legend Bob Marley.
Cedella, appointed earlier this year as the global ambassador of the JFF Women's programme, and the Bob Marley Foundation are the main sponsors of the Reggae Girlz. The intervention of the Marleys was a major catalyst for ending the exile of the senior women's team from international action.
Deer, who also holds a masters degree in business, said the development work is an ongoing and multi-faceted process.
"I'm happy for this programme. I witnessed the senior Girlz playing [in a 14-0 win over St Lucia] for the first time in six years. However, while the senior programme is doing very well now, I still have that ultimate goal of [helping] girls who want an opportunity to get a better life, the ones who are contributing to the socio-economic issues of Jamaica.
"There are girls who are getting ready for colleges and they need funding for colleges. I'm working to design a youth programme that can touch young girls, a programme that can touch them from as early as age six and tie it in with social development and sports and education and health," she stressed.
For Deer, football is just an initial avenue in which to reach out. She insists that ultimately, other sporting disciplines will not be overlooked.
"The immediate need is for girls in the football programme, but we will eventually tap into any young girl. We may start with girls at age six and by the time they reach 15, they may decide that football is not the sport. They may turn to netball or track and field."