A cry for more Government support of care agencies
Sister Susan Frazer (left), area administrator of St John BoscoVocational Training Centre, and Marcia Tai Chun, ministrycoordinator and legal counsel for the institutions operated by theSisters of Mercy.

Citing the public education system as deficient in dealing with displaced and vulnerable youngsters, St John Bosco Vocational Training Centre is calling on the Jamaica Government to aggressively fund and support care facilities.

The training centre, which is operated by Sisters of Mercy, had to scale down its services because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It targets students who leave traditional high school with one or two subject passes or no form of certification. Some of these students would've also suffered abuse during their younger developmental years, and some orphans, fending for themselves.

“The challenge we are having as institutions is we are standing ready, but where are the governmental programmes' support for a place like here? We have the credibility. We have been successful at it. But it's so hard to engage the Government. We need the financial support. You try the formal Ministry of Education and we still have a need that goes unaddressed, although we talk the problem to death,” Marcia Tai Chun, ministry coordinator and legal counsel for institutions operated by the Sisters of Mercy, told the Jamaica Observer.

“We've met with ministers of government, the prime minister when he was Opposition, the governor general — whoever is there to come here have come here. So, they see it and they know it. The Ministry of Education's team came here twice in the approval process. So, we've been examined. So where is the support for the programme?” she lamented.

Tai Chun stressed the need for robust support for care facilities as in most cases, they take up the responsibility to rejuvenate scores of youth who don't benefit from the traditional education system.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that they think that the public schools alone can do it. They can't. They don't have the capacity. Why are you not properly partnering with legitimate organisations to deliver what we all say is a problem? We all agree on the problem, but we're not fast enough moving to the solution,” she told the Sunday Observer.

Sister Susan Frazer, area administrator, echoed similar sentiments.

“We have kids coming in at grade nine and they can't read. If a child who is in grade nine can't read, every single teacher who has touched that child in all the years he has been at school should be fired. You cannot tell me that a child can go through so many grades, so many years of school and you don't know that he can't read. You can't tell me that,” she argued.

“But we have a system that pushes you through whether or not you are able to do the next level's work. It's wrong! It's wrong from the ground up. And if that doesn't change, nothing will change. We have to change our whole mindset for things to change.”

Renovation of the main building is currently underway at St John Bosco after a donation of US$249,000 from Digicel Foundation. Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica has also contributed US$60,000 towards professional fees related to the renovation project.

Tai Chun added: “Digicel Foundation has been excellent in seeking out entities that have a vision and a mission to have impact on lives. And I think that's really what they look for and they have the ability to deliver. We have found an excellent partner in Digicel Foundation. It's been refreshing to work with a group like that who is really about helping us to provide facilities for these kids,” she said, noting that they are actively trying to attract more funding to outfit the centre with resources needed for the students' development.

The current vocational training programme offers certification in various trades including butchering, catering, animal husbandry, agriculture and greenhouse farming and barbering. Cosmetology has been introduced recently, and is offered to both males and female students.

Further, the programme assists students in completing Levels 1-3 for City and Guilds certification, and in some cases, Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) certificates.

A 16-year-old boy currently studying information technology at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) level told the Sunday Observer: “I did IT in high school, but I didn't get to do the exam. I just did pre-exams in class and I only went up to grade nine.”

In barbering class, an 18-year-old is one step closer to being certified, after being introduced to the skill in his community when he was younger.

“Mi used to see other people a do it and mi did have friends weh do barbering. So mi did learn it because mi see dem a do it. When I came here, mi see dat it was one of the courses and I was interested. So, I told them that I can do this one,” he said.

Another youngster, 17, recently sat level three English language and mathematics during his second year at St John Bosco.

“I have been here around two years now. I didn't get to do any subjects in high school but when I came here I did them in City and Guilds. The results are not out as yet, but I am confident that I got them. I am also pursuing a course in barbering and butchering, so I will learn meat cutting and processing.”

Meanwhile, Frazer pointed to the need for the youth to remain interested in and committed to the programmes. She said the main way to do so is by pointing them in the direction of employment.

“They have to be able to see employment at the end of it all. It's not just work for work sake. I think that kids know genuine from what is not genuine. Also, the tutors that are around them are many times past students. I always say to them 'the same little blue bench you're sitting on is the same bench the manager of the catering department sat on.' They know that eventually it will happen,” she said.

She added, however, that they must also possess the desire.

“I can't give them the desire and I can't give them the will. They have to have that themselves. And I think we have been more than 80 or 85 per cent successful. I can count on only a few fingers, kids who are in prison or dead. Some have gone that way and are big dons in inner-cities, but that's why we have to work so hard to keep them focused and on task and continue to support them.”

Frazer also told the Sunday Observer that trade skills are equally as important as the other subject areas.

“The biggest obstacle, and I will go to my grave saying it, is there are very few people that understand the importance of trade training for kids. Everybody is looking at trying to get somebody into university. If you go to get a loaf of bread, are you looking for a college graduate to bake it for you? You're not. He's not in there baking it,” she said.

“We need to put not only emphasis, but also build it up and make it (trades) something that is strived for. It's not just something that you venture into if you can't go to university. Our kids come from way behind. Some don't have parents so nobody's there to give them that push and then there's some who don't even have parents. So, what are you going to do with them? Languishing is not an option.”

Tai Chun lamented that the governmental support for homes like St John Bosco has not changed for over a decade.

“For 16 years, they are paying the same amount of money to take care of the institution. As we all experience, the regulatory environment for places like this would require a certain level of staff. You want more intervention with behavioural modification. If you're getting what you're getting from government, there's no way that you can sustain getting staff required to deliver what is needed.

“The parliamentarians will write a bill and promulgate that this is what they want the Child Care and Protection Act to do, but the funding is not there to backup this wish list. Do you try and trudge along or do you move into another kind of focus?”

Frazer added: “They must not wonder how we're paying the staff that we have. Who's paying all the people that are here now? That's the reality on the ground.”

Further, Tai Chun said the minuscule contributions defeat the purpose of the institutions, and urged the education ministry to stop operating in “boxes.”

“Our mission is to reach out to those young people all over who are just wandering. The system has not picked them up. Although the politicians talk, they are lost. Places like here, our mission is to take those youngsters and try to help them self-actualise. That's our mission and we want to stay true to that mission and we feel that this can be accommodated here.”

FRAZER... we have a system that pushes you through whether or not you are able to do the next level'swork (Photos: Garfield Robinson)
TAI CHUN... sometimes I get thefeeling that they think that thepublic schools alone can do it
Instructor Eulalee Knight engages barbering students.
Information technology teacher Shernett Blair assists a students inclass.
St John Bosco VocationalTraining Centre was founded in1960 by the Sisters of Mercyas a residential home for boysplaced by the Family Court andthe Child Care Services.
BY ROMARDO LYONS Staff reporter lyonsr@jamaicaobserver.com

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