Tue | Jan 15, 2019

MAN down! - Spanish Town-based project to save troubled youths facing closure as it runs out of money

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Two participants in the Male Awareness Now programme, Shemar Francis (left) and Daniel Brown, demonstrate computer repair skills learnt under the project.
Patrice Pious-Allen

One of the country's leading non-governmental projects designed to keep young men from a life of crime is on the verge of shutting down as it has run out of money.

The Male Awareness Now (MAN) project has been instrumental in rescuing scores of at-risk boys in Spanish Town, St Catherine, by engaging them in uplifting activities, but now that it has run out of funds, organisers are desperately hoping that someone will come to its rescue.

Project Coordinator Patrice Pious-Allen said the male centred youth empowerment project was started in 2008 with funding from Christian Aid in the United Kingdom, but with the charity group's withdrawal from Jamaica, the organisers are in search of new financiers.

The MAN project is an initiative of the Children First Agency, and has already touched the lives of more than 700 youths in Spanish Town, where gang warfare claim the lives of hundreds each year. The project essentially resocialises young men and provides them with opportunities and skills so they can be more marketable.

"We try to motivate them; we try to encourage them; we try to help them to understand that they can be positive persons; they can be role models; they can do better than what they see reflected within their communities, especially as it relates to men," said Pious-Allen.

The group is now wrapping up its final session with 100 young men who, like the others before them, have been taught photography, computer repair techniques and other vocational skills. The boys meet every Saturday for five hours and are taken on field trips. They are also offered counselling and are taught how to solve conflicts amicably, among other things.

"Many of our youngsters who came into our project were deemed in the initial phases as the youngsters who were going nowhere, who would achieve nothing," said Pious-Allen.

"Many of them do not have a father figure. They do not have a father, full stop. And so they do not have that role model to help them to understand that this is how you should behave, this is how you should treat other persons, and these factors result in them having issues."

Pious-Allen noted that the cost to host the weekly meetings amounts to a tidy sum. She said the group has to provide refreshments for the children, pay for utilities and put funds towards implementing their activities.

"On an average, just for a Saturday alone, we are spending like $5,000 to $6,000 on refreshments," she said.


Worthwhile investment


MAN also hosts sensitisation sessions with parents of the attendees, it keeps health fairs and provides training to guidance counsellors at schools within the parish. Planning just one of these events can cost as much as $60,000.

But such an investment in the parish has proven to be worthwhile, as several of the boys who had no sense of direction or purpose have since morphed into positive role models for their peers. One success story is 15-year-old Andrew Reid who is now a senior peer educator with the group.

Reid had no interest in school prior to joining the MAN project and often found himself in trouble with his teachers. At one point, he stopped going to school for one year without his parents' knowledge because he got in trouble at school.

"I used to put on my uniform and walk up and down like I am going to school, because I really loved school but I would give trouble a lot," admitted Reid.

The teen is today a student at the Children First Achievement Centre and has developed a passion for photography. He was introduced to the project four years ago by a friend who was a participant.

"'I wasn't really interested at the time, but they mentioned computer and game and them things there, and that time I got interested. I just said I was just coming to play games alone on the computer until I see how interesting the class is, so I became a part of the class," explained Reid.

Another youngster who has benefited from the project is 15-year-old Spanish Town High School student Daniel Brown, who has learnt the rudiments of fixing computers and various life skills at the Saturday sessions. More important, he has learnt what it means to be a real man.

"A real man would not beat their woman, like what I see happening in my community regularly," he said.

"More time, I sit down with my friends them and I tell them still, but they don't really care, so I don't really tell them anything anymore. I was like them too, but when I hear about this, I come and find out about it and see that it's a good thing to be a real man," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

The Children First Agency currently has about eight other projects geared towards improving the lives of the future generation, but the MAN project is the only one that is geared specifically towards young men.

Samanta Nelson, who is a peer educator with the agency's Bashy Bus mobile health clinic and information service, said the boys in the MAN project would provide them with information needed while planning their edutainment package. The Bashy Bus travels to deep rural and inner-city communities to host sensitisation sessions with at-risk youths.