There were two contrasting scenes last Thursday: Old Harbour Primary School children smiling as they took their seats in their new ICT laboratory and Esher Primary School children receiving grief counselling as they decorated their murdered classmate's desk with messages of love and bright flowers. Oh Jamaica, our children deserve a peaceful, nurturing childhood.
What creatures have we let loose on our society that our children do not have a village to watch over them? We are outraged by the brutish murderer, who even tied the legs of the child's pet dog as he planned his heinous crime.
Let us go back about 30 years ago when WMW Jamaica (formerly Women's Media Watch) published findings on the danger of exposing young people to violence in movies. Then along came video games and I remember burying my young son's Grand Theft Auto game at the bottom of the garbage bin when someone told me that it contained a scene in which a woman is abducted and dragged into a car to be raped. Study after study showed how desensitised young minds can become when they are immersed in these activities.
Then came Professor Kwame McKenzie, guest speaker at the 2013 Medical Association of Jamaica Symposium, who spoke on the topic 'Beating Schizophrenia'. In a column on the event, I wrote, "Prof McKenzie said that a five-year study revealed that while having a close relative with schizophrenia was a contributing factor in contracting the illness, there were other significant risk factors — factors I listened to with rising dread:
• People who smoked 50 joints of cannabis before 18 have triple the risk
• Children who were separated from their parents for one year or more before the age of 15 had a similarly dramatic increased risk
• Being born in the city and raised in a stressful environment
• Social adversity and bullying in childhood
"As we consider these risk factors and the terrible conditions under which our children are being raised, we understand why we see so much antisocial behaviour in our country."
Anyone who could deliberately murder precious Nikita Noel, other children, and helpless elders must have been dehumanised in one way or another. What is this dangerous spawn that has been visited upon our country, and why is it that we still continue to tiptoe around these brutish beasts? Did their foreparents commit crimes under protection of authorities for so long that they consider themselves immune to the rule of law? Do they carry too many secrets for the corrupt among us?
How can our national consciousness deal with these sickening incidents over and over again? One thing we must know, we cannot become inured to them. We must look out for a troubled sister, a confused child to help and mentor. We can assist our social workers in calling out situations before they become dangerous. We can become active in our churches, visiting families, saying soft words to children, become trained in mediation to diffuse tense situations.
It was timely that for Journalism Week, the Press Association of Jamaica held a Forum on 'Child, Sex and the Media – Regulation and Responsibility in the Digital Age'.
Warren Thompson, director of Children and Family Programmes at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), shocked the nation with findings that increased numbers of children are becoming addicted to pornography, and that the scourge of child pornography is all over the internet. He warned that it is a crime to have such content on one's device. Latoya Minott-Hall, public education and special project manager at the Office of the Children's Advocate, expressed her concern that children were being robbed of the joys of childhood as there was fear of them playing in open spaces and taking public transportation. She urged parents to be vigilant of their children's exploration of the internet.
When we see this violence on the news, we all hurt, and each of us has a responsibility to become a part of the safety net for the most vulnerable in our society. We heal ourselves when we heal others.
OLD HARBOUR PRIMARY SHINES
As we entered the gates of Old Harbour Primary School, we were impressed with the tidy surroundings and well-maintained buildings. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the school was founded in the 18th century, the first in the town of Old Harbour. With every step we were greeted by courteous teachers, staff, and children. We ascended the steps on a red carpet to the library set up for the launch of their ICT room, developed by the Digicel Foundation.
The creativity of the programme spoke of diligent teachers and a strong Parent Teacher Association (PTA). The school's Sign Language Club performed a song of praise, while choral speech and song were delivered by other talented students.
Custos Icylin Golding reminded us that this was once her school; therefore, we could understand the culture of excellence which undergirds Old Harbour Primary School. Her fellow parishioners are grateful for her caring, open-door policy.
The youthful principal, George Goode, has presided over the transformation of the school with a population of 1,400 to single shift and the maintenance of the children's education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chairman Romond Fisher gives hands-on support and the camaraderie among board and teachers is heart-warming.
There is a powerful network of alumni supporting the school, such as Sophia Forbes-Hall, regional director of the Ministry of Education; Treacha Reid, president of the South St Catherine Chamber of Commerce; Dorette Mayne-Webster, PTA president; and Steve Graham, councillor for the Old Harbour Central Division.
The day was a beautiful reminder that, with all our troubles, we cannot give up on our great little country.
CONGRATS TO MEDIA VETERANS
PAJ President Milton Walker and his executive made the commendable decision to honour media stalwarts who had given decades of service behind the scenes. The five veterans honoured included Jamaica Observer's pre-press technician Ian Watkiss for 27 years' service, first in the printing business, then joining the Jamaica Observer in its early years and embracing the challenges of the emerging technology.
It was a delight to sit with trailblazer Pat Riley, Jamaica's first media camerawoman, and her family members. Riley gave 25 years' service and represented her fellow workers on the Board of Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) as a union delegate.
I have had the pleasure of working with veteran Keith Campbell, currently CEO at Public Broadcasting Company of Jamaica (PBCJ) and adjunct lecturer at University of Technology, Jamaica and The University of the West Indies. This accomplished veteran of 35 years is a model of leadership.
We also salute Clevans Wilson, 47-year veteran cameraman and technical director at JBC and Television Jamaica (TVJ) and Maxine Schrouder, 35-year librarian and researcher at the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).
Kudos to the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) for a vibrant Journalism Week under the theme 'A Free Press for a Better Jamaica'. Congratulations to all the nominees and the eventual winners at last Saturday evening's media awards event.
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