What use is a march?
Recently I organised a march for our children, which took place two Sundays ago. I grew weary of hearing about children going missing, being abused and getting murdered and was tired of just talking. I decided that I had to actually do something. When I announced my intention to march, there were two recurring questions: "What use is a march?" and "After the march, then what?"
Those questions are pertinent, as persons often march for or against a cause, and after the march it is business as usual with no follow up action. But my experience was a very fruitful one, which I will share with you.
The main purpose of the march was to show love and support for our children, to highlight the issue of child abuse and increase public awareness, to disseminate relevant and important information to the public and to serve as a call to action. But there were other benefits as well.
Because of the decision to stage the march, a group was formed, and a logo was designed. The name of the group is 'Protect Our Children' and the logo depicts a hand with green, white and yellow fingers, on a black background, with a smaller white hand superimposed on it.
The logo was posted on Facebook, and immediately, demands were made for t-shirts. T-shirts were produced and over 150 were sold in five days, raising over $100,000 for Eve For Life's Ashley Fund, a children's charity concerned with girls who are victims of sexual abuse. An organization, on learning of the march granted my request to pay for the production of the first 100 shirts. Another organization, on learning about the march, also decided to donate $50,000 to the same charity.
During the march, the number to call to report child abuse, 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328) was displayed on placards and announced via a bullhorn. Many persons were unaware of the number until that time.
At the end of the march, the crowd was addressed by persons working in agencies dealing with issues that affect children: Dr Sandra Knight (National Family Planning Board), Rosalee Gage Grey (Child Development Agency), Dr Elizabeth Ward (Violence Prevention Alliance), Allison Hickling (UNICEF), Kellie Magnus (Next Genderation) and Zoe Wellington (Eve For Life).
The audience was also informed that Claudette Pious, the founder of Children First, was also invited but was unable to take part as she was at CISOCA with a nine year old girl who had been sexually abused, and the opportunity was taken to inform the gathering about Claudette's excellent work with children.
As a result of that announcement, word spread about Claudette's mission and organization, and she received several calls the next day concerning children at risk and requests for assistance. Also, I was contacted by someone who was present at the march, who told me that her company was willing to donate money to an organization that was helping children. She was directed to Children First, which is set to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The following day, there was also a front page newspaper article featuring the march, as well as the announcement of child abuse 'hotspots' in the country that Rosalee Gage Grey, CEO of the Child Development Agency (CDA), informed the marchers about at the end of the event. I was also contacted by one of my fellow marchers and informed that the 1-888 number designated to be called to report child abuse is not always answered.
Greig Smith, registrar at the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) responded by informing me that the number is answered Mondays to Fridays from 7:00a.m. to 11:00p.m. and that submissions have been made to relevant government ministries for more funding to enable it to be operational round the clock. He also informed me that interested persons can visit the OCR website (www.ocr.gov.jm) and download forms and volunteer to help to man the line.
This led to a meeting on Tuesday with Grieg, Rosalee, Sandra, Claudette, Allison, Janet Cupidon Quallo (UNICEF) and myself to discuss strategies aimed at enabling the line to be answered on a 24-four hour basis. I also decided to conduct a survey at my office. Seventy five women were asked if they knew the number to call to report child abuse, and only five knew the number. Most did not even know that such a number existed. This led me to write and record a jingle to educate the public. Protect Our Children now has a Facebook page, and Twitter and Instagram accounts will follow.
A march is not necessarily a waste of time. All of this was achieved simply because of a decision to stage a march; fund-raising, facilitation of funding, increased public awareness and public education. So, the next time you hear about a march, especially if it concerns something that affects you, rather than being cynical, consider taking part or contributing ideas that can help the cause.
I would also like to take this opportunity to request that you spread the word that the number to call to report child abuse in Jamaica is 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328). Facebook it, Tweet it, Instagram it, WhatsApp it, text it, email it and tell your family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, fellow students and church brothers and sisters, and ask those who are interested to log on to the OCR website to volunteer. We must fight the abuse and neglect of our children.