A year ago a young social worker in the inner-city community of Riverton, on the fringes of the municipal dump at the western end of the capital city, answered with a question of his own when asked why he was volunteering to help children in his community.
“If not me, then who?” Mr Krishane Watson asked his questioner.
Back then Mr Watson and others were tutoring schoolchildren in their community. Their service became doubly valuable after the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which closed physical school for long periods and rendered learning impossible for those children without the wherewithal for online communication.
We are reminded of Mr Watson’s searing question by yesterday’s uplifting story of a timely social intervention from business executive and philanthropist Mr Leighton McKnight.
The story goes back to 2016 when a horrifying video went viral of a very angry, clearly frustrated mother, skilfully but savagely beating her young daughter with the flat side of a machete.
We hear from Mr McKnight that, “When I saw the video clip at first I was totally outraged like most people.”
Then, after reflection, it came to him “that both mother and daughter needed help, and there must be more to the video”.
A probe soon revealed that mother and daughter really needed assistance. The child “did not have her books and could not attend school regularly. There is also a twin brother. What I saw represented frustration and perhaps hopelessness. I decided to help,” Mr McKnight said.
He is a proud man now, for the young lady, at 17, is getting ready to start nursing school. And such is the gratitude of mother and daughter they were on hand to make a special presentation to Mr McKnight at a Father’s Day ceremony last Sunday.
The message from Mr McKnight, as it was from Mr Watson a year ago, is that all of us with the capacity to help must do so, in whatever way we can. We can’t leave that responsibility for someone else.
Who knows what would have happened to that little girl if Mr McKnight hadn’t reached out? And what of those children in Riverton benefiting from the guidance of volunteers like Mr Watson?
Of course, there are many, many people always reaching out, who, for most of us, will never be known or heard about. It may only be bus fare or lunch money for a student, a gift of school books or a pair of shoes... It can all make a difference.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes parents — at their wits’ end to provide for their children — are too proud to ask for help. In such situations conscious and aware community leaders, in partnership with those in the know, such as teachers, often respectfully intervene.
Unfortunately, the community leadership that would facilitate respectful social intervention is not always there. In this space, we regularly appeal for the mobilisation of communities and their leaders to fight destabilising social ills, such as crime and antisocial behaviour. We believe such mobilisation would work just as well for social intervention programmes at the community level, which, all can agree, provide nurturing ground for a much desired stable and peaceful Jamaica.