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One of the toughest years, says NEF

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this 2012 photograph, First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union's Maria Morrison (left) hands over a cheque to Christine Staple-Ebanks. - File

Lack of funding forces entity established to support children, particularly those with disabilities, to scale back plans

Christine Staple-Ebanks, Guest Columnist

On the face of it, 2014 was a challenging year, both personally and professionally, for us at the Nathan Ebanks Foundation (NEF). It was one of the toughest years for our organisation to date.

Since inception, the NEF has been focused on serving children with disabilities and special learning needs along with their families, caregivers and others who provide support. This has been done through training and other interventions. The success of our programmes is largely dependent on corporate support and sponsorship.

We started the year hopeful with a number of programmes planned. However, we had to scale back considerably when funding dried up suddenly, due to cutbacks in corporate support and the overall poor-quality citizenship in Jamaica.

Economic conditions in the country unfortunately affected non-profit and charity organisations such as the NEF, and we remain extremely vulnerable to changes in the economy. In the absence of a backup plan, many social programmes which we provide had to be cut.

The lack of funding pushed us to step back, assess the situation and look for new ways to deliver our programmes. Thankfully, we were able to do so through strategic partnerships with institutions such as the Ministry of Education and the Child Development Agency (CDA).

Our major accomplishment for the year included partnering with the Ministry of Education to design and deliver a special education module titled 'Inclusive Education: Teaching Students with Disabilities in Mainstream Classroom'.

This initiative formed part of a capacity building and support activities planned by the education ministry to meet the needs of the students with exceptionalities in the classrooms at the primary and secondary level, and resulted in the equipping of 30 special educators as trainers. The training kept us busy for the first half of the year.

We also partnered with the CDA to deliver special-education training in support of its efforts to effectively reach and teach students who may have special learning needs within their institutions. The key result achieved was the training of 20 teachers islandwide.

As part of our annual initiative to encourage and strengthen reading across the Kingston Metropolitan Area, the NEF disseminated more than 1,000 books to 20 schools and institutions across the island, thanks to our ongoing partnership with St Bernard's School in New York, USA.

SIGNIFICANT YEAR

On a larger scale, 2014 was a significant year in Jamaica for persons with disabilities, as the long-awaited and anticipated Disability Act was finally passed in the Lower House of Parliament on July 22, 2014 and then in the Upper House on October 10, 2014. The Disabilities Act has been a long time in the making and outline provisions to safeguard and enhance the welfare of persons with disabilities across Jamaica.

The act reinforces that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as everyone else and promotes individual dignity and autonomy, including the freedom of choice and independence of a person with a disability.

This is indeed a significant development for persons with disabilities, particularly children and their families. This is a great accomplishment to bring 2014 to a close, and a fillip for action as we usher in 2015. Interesting times are ahead of us as we now seek to move from legislation to implementation or enforcement.

Among the activities planned for next year is Corporate Engagement Breakfast Forum under the theme 'Advancing Children's Rights through Corporate Social Responsibility'.

Increasingly around the world, private businesses are distinguishing themselves by measuring the social performance of their portfolios. It is an important way for them, their investors and the communities in which they invest to understand the change they create and their value contribution in a much broader sense than the bottom line.

The Business Breakfast Forum is designed to mobilise support to ensure that the children's rights and protection agenda and is closely aligned to the corporate social responsibility agenda of our national businesses for 2015 and beyond.

This event, which presents opportunities for strategic partnerships with private-sector entities, is expected to take place on Thursday, January 22, 2015, at 8 a.m.

This advocacy and partnership initiative seeks to integrate the child rights and protection agenda, particularly children with disabilities, into the business agenda, given the recent Disability Act (2014).

The NEF is a registered non-profit organisation, with distinguished work in education, care, protection, participation and empowerment of children inclusively, with direct focus on children with disabilities in Jamaica.

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

Its principles are in alignment with the international standards established under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which spell out the basic human rights that every child under age 18 is entitled.

These include the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, protection from abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

The organisation was established eight years ago as a result of the fundamental challenge of the lack of inclusivity in national development and planning, which failed to take into account the needs of this segment of our population.

The foundation believes that true development cannot take place where a significant segment of the population is excluded from contributing to growth and productivity. The NEF therefore commits over the next three years to strengthen communities' capacities to research, plan, develop and implement programmes for inclusion and to mainstream child rights and protection within the society, starting with the strategic engagement of corporate Jamaica.

The NEF stands ready to work with public, private and civil society to embed the Disabilities Act in our everyday lives, in government policies and procedures, and within corporate business practices. I look with great anticipation to what lies ahead in 2015.

Christine Staple-Ebanks is the founder and president of the Nathan Ebanks Foundation. Email feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com