American entrepreneur-turned-recording artiste Sophia Dias has vowed to help improve the lives of Jamaican adolescent mothers who are finding it difficult to survive.
Dias, a frequent visitor to Jamaica, says that she has already begun planning a fund-raiser for next January to assist the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation in highlighting the plight of Jamaican girls who become mothers by the age of 16.
"I want the people of the world to know that they need to prevent child pregnancy, so I am aiming to do a fund-raiser from which all the money that is raised will go to the Women's Centre," she told the Jamaica Observer.
"I believe in addressing the plight of girls in the centre who are teenagers, basically, giving birth to children. The funds that are raised will be used by the centre to educate young girls about things like pregnancy and safe sex so that they don't become mothers as teenagers," she explained.
"I became aware of the centre many years ago, and last year when I was here we donated books, school bags, notebooks, pens, and so on to the young women. The fund-raiser that I am working on now, with quite a few other people in Jamaica and elsewhere — my friends and colleagues — we are going to do this fund-raiser in January," she said.
Born in Goa, a state in India comprising a mainland district on its south-western coast and an offshore island, Dias lived in England, China, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and the United States by age 30. She is a frequent visitor to Jamaica and a fan of local cuisine.
She has published a book titled Sábio: A Culinary Journey, which is basically a collection of 30 dishes taken from her travels across the world since her early youth, pulling specifically from Portugal, France, Turkey, India, China, and Japan.
"I began my culinary adventures and pursuit of creativity at a very early age while attending boarding school. My five years there gave me good overall knowledge on how to cook healthy, fresh food," she told the Sunday Observer.
"I dedicated this culinary book to the current and past residents of the Madonna House and House of Good Shepherd in Chicago and all the children of orphanages and shelters across the Ukraine, Israel, Hong Kong, and many other countries that gave me the opportunity to express my love for their people through food," she said.
Dias is also the founder and CEO of Dias Worldwide, a high-end fashion house with bases in Portugal, Italy, and the United States. She also serves on the Women's Board of Catholic Charities of Chicago, where she is continuing her volunteer projects to assist destitute and homeless children in shelters around the world.
A cricket fan and squash enthusiast, Dias sees Jamaica as virtually a second home and has grown to love the island and its cultural flavour, especially its music and food, so much so that, when the burden of her failed marriage started taking its toll on her last year, she came to Jamaica to record a single, Psalms 23.
Psalm 23 was a plea to God thanking Him for shepherding her out of what had become a painful end to her marriage in Chicago to her multi-millionaire businessman husband.
She eventually exchanged her disappointment for a trip to Jamaica, where she recorded the song at Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston. It was produced by veteran musician, arranger, composer and producer Clive Hunt, while the highly rated Shane Brown was the engineer.
"Many people may wonder, but it's the most frightening thing to leave a marriage, and the easiest thing to do is to tell yourself that it's going to get better or that a miracle is going to happen, but it doesn't happen and you have to have courage to ask God for help," she confessed.
"Recording Psalm 23 was a dream come through, and I believe it touched so many lives, receiving a lot of support from across the globe. I look forward to working with Clive and the team again because we have the right chemistry to fully develop the album. Clive Hunt has the ability to think out of the box," she added.
Dias was so pleased with the results from the Psalms 23 project that she returned to Jamaica at the end of September to rejoin Hunt and his team of musicians, this time to record a seven-track album titled Bullet Proof, which features a track called Ghetto Arms.
The album, she said, should appeal to women working in ghettos all over Africa and around the world as well as young girls in Jamaica who get pregnant before they can even afford to take care of a child.
"I wrote the lyrics for Ghetto Arms and, in fact, I wrote the lyrics for the seven tracks on the album," Dias pointed out.
She said that, in addition to the album sales and other contributions, her efforts to assist the Women's Centre will benefit from a 150-minute movie, which she plans to have filmed in Jamaica next year.
She recently launched her Dias Foundation, gathering all her volunteering experiences from childhood to adulthood to assist the most-impoverished children worldwide.
The state machinery that provides transitional education for girls who leave school during pregnancy currently resides in the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation, a government-owned entity reporting to the Office of the Prime Minister.
The programme currently serves approximately one-third of all teenage mothers and is globally recognised for its successes in reducing the recidivism rate among its students. The services offered by the organisation will be expanded and more fully aligned with the Ministry of Education's curriculum as well as its guidance and counselling services.
The key elements of this policy are:
• Automatic referral of all pregnant girls to the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation
• Reintegrating all school-age mothers into the formal school system, either in their original school or in another school, at the same level
• Monitoring of adolescent mothers to ensure they complete their education
• Increasing prevention messages to seek to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy.