Scotiabank Volunteer Committed to Making a Difference
Forty-one-year-old Scotiabank volunteer, Keian Turner has seen up close the long-term effects of an early, unplanned pregnancy on a scared and vulnerable teenager. She has had friends and relatives who have shared their stories and experiences, and she has shared in their pain and the journey back to hope.
Today, she channels all her energy into helping to make sure that as many of these young women as possible that she meets have some support and the tools to make it back. She shares this passion in her role as mentor and counsellor in the Scotiabank-organised Girls Empowered for Motherhood and Success (GEMS) programme.
The bank, through the ScotiaFoundation, is working in conjunction with Junior Achievement Jamaica to facilitate training in JA Career Success for the girls at Women's Centres islandwide. As a ScotiaVolunteer, she will be assisting with the training of adolescent mothers over the next seven weeks.
But for Turner, it is more than just a project. It is a personal mission.
"I got involved because when I was going to school, I knew of persons, including immediate relatives, who got pregnant in high school and they dropped out of school. Some went back after or went to evening classes to get subjects, but it wasn't like now, where the support is there. There was a lot of stigma around persons being sexually active in high school and then getting pregnant.
"I thought it would be nice to reach out to the ladies in the programme and encourage them that life is not over. You can still become what you want to become in life."
Her voice breaks as she relates the struggles of a close friend who has been trying to restart her life since getting pregnant as a teen. "She was 14 and got pregnant for an older man - 40 years old. She was living with her mother (who had her at 16 years old), and apparently, the man used to live on the same property and worked with her aunt."
She says that it was difficult to break the attachment. "At one point, she felt like she still had to be with him. They are not together now."
"She left school, had the baby, and did evening classes but wasn't focused, didn't pass any of her subjects. She then went to HEART but eventually stopped. Then, she went to a school that offers training in how to care for babies. She started working at a restaurant at the airport in Montego Bay but then decided to quit. I told her not to quit - to stay put - until she got something better."
Turner says that it was after a summer visit with her friend that she realised that her downward spiral was getting worse. This forced her to throw herself into supporting her friend's feeble efforts at being more responsible in any way she could.
She believes strongly that it was this direct personal intervention that made a big difference in her friend's life. "Now, she is in a job and is focusing on completing her studies. Her son is now eight years old."
Last year, Turner signed up to be part of the Scotia Foundation's training programme for adolescent mothers. The class comprised 15 ladies - some pregnant, some nursing. She said that it was a good experience.
"There were some who really wanted to learn, some less interested, and some interested in the tangible things they could get from the programme. Some were very shy and you had to pull them out of their shell. Eventually, they all worked together on a project."
Turner says that the results have been golden.
"I enjoyed giving them the information, and if I could, I would have gone to all the sessions. I got a sense of fulfillment seeing how communities were being impacted and being able to give back. It felt good seeing that the girls were still upbeat and willing to step ahead. It was encouraging to see their spirits shine."
Turner says that while the formal systems are important, the role of the family and community must also be encouraged.
"Yes, we have the Women's Centre, but persons come from various backgrounds and families, and the families need to be involved in the lives of the children. We need to teach them and educate them any way we can."
A beneficiary of the programme, Kendall Dunbar was 15 years old when she got pregnant. Dunbar was living with her grandparents, who were very shocked when they found out that she was pregnant, but according to Dunbar, no insults were hurled. However, her parents were very upset.
"I felt very ashamed and really wanted to make them proud after the birth of my baby. I was told by a friend about the programme and brought in to be registered by my aunt."
And Dunbar was on a mission to make them proud. She was successful in seven CSEC subjects and felt empowered as a woman and a mother. "I was never ashamed anymore. I was motivated to be a productive citizen."
The programme, according to Dunbar, was a second chance for teen mothers and she would certainly recommend the programme. "The Women's Centre programme is very helpful for teen mothers. The second chance given to us helps us to be motivated, committed, and want to succeed in life."
The Ja Career Success programme equips students with crucial tools and skills required to earn and keep a job in high-growth career industries. This year, the key topics will be 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity; strong soft skills; work priorities; and other high-growth industries and personal-brand and job-hunting tools - rÈsumÈs, cover letters, interviews, and digital profiles.