Christmas cheer in state care - Children’s home ward eagerly awaiting today
Like most of the country's 4,600 children in state care, Kimmy-Lee* will be spending today away from her biological parents and with an extended family made up of some of Jamaica's most vulnerable citizens.
But if last year Christmas is anything to go by, the 16-year-old resident of the Maxfield Park Children's Home is certain today will be great.
"Last year Christmas was so nice. We came together and we talked, and we sat down and we ate together Christmas morning, and we shared gifts and we watched TV. It was great," beamed Kimmy-Lee.
She doesn't know if there will be any gifts for her under the Christmas tree this year, but she vividly remembers opening her package last year to find a bottle of perfume, a deodorant and a bottle of lotion. More than all her gifts, however, she cherishes the white "stretchy" dress she received and shyly demonstrated with hand gestures how much it enhanced her petite figure.
The teenager is marking her second Christmas at the children's home where she lives with 100 of her peers.
Of this lot, 11 had been reunited with their family when The Sunday Gleaner visited the facility last Tuesday, but assistant manager at the home, Winston Bowen, was optimistic that at least 20 would be spending time away from the facility today.
"Despite the fact that some will be going to their parents or relatives and some may be going to strangers, a number of them will still remain here," said Bowen.
Kimmy-Lee said that her relatives visit her at the home on occasions, but she explained that her family situation "is complicated" and so , unfortunately, she is not one of those given clearance by social workers to go home for the holidays.
She doesn't share many details about why she was placed in a home in the first place, choosing to point out that she was abused and that Maxfield Park was the second home she was being placed at since being separated from her mother and father.
"It's kind of complicated, but you know that once you have the Lord with you, you are good, you can go through anything. As long as you have the Lord beside you, you can overcome a lot," said the teen.
The joy of the Christmas season has helped to soothe the pain of her complicated childhood. She especially loves decorating the Christmas tree and talking about her plans with other wards as they enjoy their meals.
"We share like what we want to become in life; like me now, I want to become a nurse, but you know you have to work hard for that. We always sit down and we talk about how our house is going to be. We want big car, big house (and) children," shared Kimmy-Lee.
As a student counsellor at her school, Kimmy-Lee is always counselling other children, and this includes wards of the state. She finds that it is especially difficult for a number of wards to be away from family at this time of the year, but she always reminds them that they should try to look at the brighter picture.
"Sometimes I sit down with them and I talk to them and I tell them that once you have the Lord, everything will work out very well for you and all you have to do is have faith," she said.
"When you wake up in the morning, you have to thank God, because a lot of persons they don't even wake up when they go to their beds; so you have to be grateful," she stressed.
Bowen is cognisant of the fact that this can be a lonely time for the wards, and so apart from preparing a special feast for them on a day like today, the administrators sometimes assist the children to make contact with their parents or encourage their parents to call them.
He said the outpouring of support from Jamaicans have helped them to recreate a family setting for the children at the home.
"We make it relaxing and entertaining and supportive, so they can feel at home," said Bowen.
"We have had a number of individuals and groups that have been coming in. In fact, from late November, we have been having people coming in almost every day or every other day. They bring gifts, they bring food items, they bring non-perishable items to stock up our storerooms," added Bowen.
* Name changed on request.