Sat | May 25, 2019

Wanting the unwanted

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Volunteers taking care of some of the physically disabled children at the Holy Innocents Crisis Center
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Sister Jo-Ann Belmonte

The establishment of a pro-life centre to assist pregnant women in crisis has resulted in the lives of more than 100 babies being saved in the past two years.

That's according to the operators of the Holy Innocents Crisis Centre, which was set up after a heated national debate on abortion in 2009.

At that time, pro-lifers - persons opposed to abortion - and pro-choice lobby groups sought to provide convincing arguments for their positions in Parliament.

Among the pro-lifers was prominent philanthropist Father Richard Ho Lung, who decided to start the Holy Innocents Crisis Centre at National Heroes Circle in the Corporate Area after he was challenged on what he could do for mothers who had no means to take care of a child.

Mothers return for babies

Sister Jo-Ann Belmonte, who manages the centre, last week told The Sunday Gleaner that having been persuaded not to have an abortion, the vast majority of the women who opted to leave the babies at the centre and move on with their lives have returned for their children.

"They had left them behind for a short while, but then they came to get them back, and one of our children that was left behind for more than a year and a half, the baby's father came and took him," said Belmonte. In the case where the father came for the child he was granted custody by the court.

The centre was officially opened in 2012 and is manned by a group of nuns who provide for the women and their babies. Belmonte said that while some of the mothers just walked in off the streets, several were referred by the Child Development Agency and the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. Many of them were in their teens, with the youngest being 13 years old. Some of them had also been spurned by their baby's father and had no means of taking care of themselves or a child.

"Officials from Jubilee have phoned me saying 'I have somebody here pregnant, can I send them to you?', and I say 'of course'. I have had calls from as far as Montego Bay, St James, and we tell them that we don't have a place in Montego Bay, but if they can make their way here, of course," said the nun.

"Any woman who comes to our gate and says 'Sis, I have no place to live, I am on the streets and I am pregnant', we bring in," added Belmonte.

However, she pointed out that, "It was never intended for this to become their permanent address, but we would take care of them and throughout their pregnancy help to guide them."

The nun explained that they had to develop a timeline for the mothers to leave in order to make space for other pregnant women. However, the babies can stay behind and there is the option to sign over their parental rights to the administrators through the courts.

"Our first set of mothers stayed with us for over a year after they had their babies, because they were very comfortable because we took care of all their needs. They didn't want for anything, we cooked for them, when their babies wanted diapers or this or that, whatever we had we gave."

The mothers are still provided with cooked meals and the necessary resources for themselves and their babies; however, Belmonte said they are expected to do their laundry and assist with the clean-up of the dorms. They are also expected to attend worship service at least once each the day and to dress appropriately when outside their dorms.

Forced to seek refuge

Mother of two, Julene, said she was forced to seek refuge at the centre when her partner kicked her out of the house while she was six months' pregnant. She said a lady told her about the centre and she, along with her eight-year-old daughter and newborn, spent eight months there.

"I didn't have anywhere else to go," said Julene. "I have four sisters and is only one could have helped me, but she couldn't help me because she want help herself."

Julene said she has since relocated to St Elizabeth to live with her father's family and is in the process of sourcing material to build a house in that section of the island. Although things are rough for her, she says she is happy she had not aborted her son.

"I don't believe in abortion, I think it is wicked. I would tell women to have their child and God will provide," said Julene.

Given the large square footage of Holy Innocents which, just a few years ago, was a derelict building, Belmonte explained that they have since opened up another section for mentally and physically disabled children, and there are plans to start taking in homeless elderly women come January.

Since, June they have taken in 12 disabled children who were mostly referred by local hospitals.