MONTEGO BAY, St James — Veteran Member of Parliament for St James North Western Dr Horace Chang says he is disappointed that the stigma of violence that has tarnished Norwood has overshadowed the outstanding academic performance of students from the community.
Dr Chang, who is also minister of national security and deputy prime minister, was speaking at the launch of the Universal Service Fund's (USF) Community Wi-Fi Initiative at the Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in Garvey Square, Norwood last week.
"There is often talk of the challenges we have faced in Norwood. Norwood, for me, has produced the most students going to college [in the constituency]. Every year when I am doing my scholarship grants, if I am not careful, between my friends in Norwood and Councillor [Joshua] Cummings, everything comes to Norwood," said Dr Chang.
"We have some fantastic students coming out of here. And I am talking not two or three, I often give between 70 and 100 grants a year and the vast number comes out of here, very, very bright young kids. Unfortunately, that doesn't make the news."
He noted, however, that there are some youngsters in the sometimes volatile community who stray into illegal activities. But he stressed that the answer to crime and violence is the provision of quality education to students from the infant school level.
"I make no apologies for having our police force organised, prepared, trained and equipped to deal with those who hurt people, but the solution, I have said it before but nobody likes to publish it, is like they don't hear, is education. My constituents are aware and they know that is what I believe in. And that is why I have the support of this constituency and I am comfortable that I look after my children and I go to my schools and the solution to the violence to our country lies here [education from the infant level]. If we get it right with our infants, we will get it right with the adults and the community. That's the solution," he said.
"We have a few [youngsters] that give problems with the issue of crime and violence. But my solution, and the solution for [Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford] Mr Chambers and the police over there, is actually in this room. It is the quality of education for these kids from Glendevon Primary and Infant, the basic school at this church, from Hemming Gay [Preparatory and Kindergarten]. If we get it right with our infants, society will be right."
He disclosed that not only did he provide some 78 bursaries for university students in his constituency this year, but has sought and located some 35 truants from Flanker, who has since returned to the classroom.
"Just this year, I not only gave out 78 bursaries to children going to university, I went to Flanker and one of the social workers there walked with me and we found 35 truants, people not coming to school, made sure they got uniform, got them on PATH to get lunch at school and they are all attending school," Chang revealed.
He further disclosed that plans are afoot to also target truants in the Glendevon and Norwood communities of his constituency.
"I am speaking to my teachers in Glendevon to find those in the Glendevon/Norwood area to counsel them, fund those kids, that's where we need them. I don't need to get them in correctional centres, I need them in the schools and if you find them I will help them get into schools. I made that pledge. It is not that expensive to provide basic uniform and it makes a difference," he argued.
Dr Chang welcomed the free Wi-Fi in the community, noting that it forms part of the process of providing opportunities for the children.
"This Wi-Fi is a part of that process that when they leave school [in the afternoons] and they are here in Norwood...this particular church is like an oasis in Norwood. It provides a centre for peace, coming together and a place of worship. It is a really important centre. The church is here like a beacon which the community comes to and with the Wi-Fi is a place you can come for homework, they can come and make a phone call, they can come and talk. So it is a major contribution, so it is completing the process," the veteran Member of Parliament stated.
"I could say it [Wi-Fi] is an icing on the cake but it is more. It is a big part of the cake, having Internet connection here. I really feel happy to have it here. Activities like this with the right guidance from our teachers, our schools, is the real solution."
"So, I want to welcome the Universal Service Fund. They are going across the island introducing hot spots where you [students] can do homework [and] the population can gain free access to the Internet," he said.
Deputy mayor of Montego Bay Councillor Richard Vernon implored the community members to protect the Wi-Fi infrastructure.
He lauded the USF's management for the installation of the facility.
"I want to encourage you to do your part to ensure that while you take advantage of this Wi-Fi Internet service, you seek to be productive and use the access you have gained wisely, safely and productively. You must look at this occasion as an opportunity to increase knowledge and improve lives," Vernon stated.
Representing custos of St James Reverend Conrad Pitkins, senior justice of the peace Leroy Grey also tasked the residents to protect the facility.
The free and secure Internet connectivity has a range of 800 feet and can allow up to 200 residents to simultaneously log on with their smartphones and tablet devices.