WOMAN POWER - Yvonne Townsend mothers over 80 children in 23 years
Rose Hill, Manchester:
It began as a need to conquer a challenge she heard while listening to the radio at the age of 12. Then it developed after she joined the Jamaica Constabulary Force and had the courts refer children to her care. Now, her home is known as 'Home Sweet Home', providing love and care to orphans, the abandoned, the abused, the less fortunate and children who are simply in need of a better life.
"The radio announcer stated that no one under the age of 30 could have a house and land without being in drugs and prostitution, but at 12 years old, I took on that challenge. By age 27, realising that time was catching up on me, I went overseas and worked up to four jobs, and ultimately, before I was 30, I had everything - the house, the car, the land everything. A few years later, I even got my first and second degrees because I couldn't allow time to run out on me," began Yvonne Townsend, as she recounted portions of her journey to the life that now is.
Having pushed herself and attained much success, Townsend had a deep yearning to give back. It became a call on her life that she embraced wholeheartedly.
"I am originally from Montego Bay, but when I was transferred to the Mandeville Police Station, it was just my daughter and I, so, with my daughter alone in the house, I thought she needed company, and so it started. I would go to juvenile court and when I heard the children saying they would commit suicide if they went home, I offered to take them."
"At 51, I have taken in 82 children in 23 years. Now they are all over the world - in Germany, Australia, England - all over and, of course, some are still in Jamaica, passed through university and so. When they come here, there are two things that I want for them: a good education and a working relationship with Christ," she added.
Townsend, who got too attached to the children, felt hurt when they began asking questions about their own family and ended up leaving. So, now she focuses on rehabilitating them to return to their families.
"We want the children to understand life and to take responsibility for their actions, to be focused. Each of them has their chores that they do and they learn to be independent. At times, they will be given odd work to do like gardening and helping with the dishes, and they get a little stipend. It's not a job; it is to help them to value efforts. They must want something out of life and once I see that them come fi waste time, I say, 'Next!', and take in somebody who is serious."
She explained to Family and Religion: "We normally take the children before they reach CDA (Child Development Agency) or the bigger homes and sometimes after because after 18, the Government is not responsible (for them) and some of them have nowhere to go."
With no financial aid from external sources, Townsend relies on donations of kind and the small funds made from her 'Friends in Need Charity Thrift Shop' to buy food and toiletries for all the persons to whom she tends.
"My life is fun. If me nah have fun, I'm going to want to sleep. Everything is about faith in action and it has been only God," beamed Townsend.
Even how God placed her husband in her life is reason enough to strengthen her faith.
"I met him at a church retreat. I gave him 101 reasons why I wasn't available, but he was persistent - every turn me turn, a him dat! I told him I was into charity and he eventually came up by the house to see what it was all about. He travelled all the way from Hanover and stayed for the weekend. We went to church the Sabbath. I slept with the girls and when I woke up Sunday morning, me a wonder how me smell food, but me never yet smell the neighbour food, so me a wonder. When me look, nuh the man prepare breakfast and dinner. By 7 a.m., everything finish - him just fit right in."
She continued, "Eventually, he proved himself more and more (and) after three weeks, we were married! Four years of bliss, no quarrel. We resolve everything through humour.
"The charity is geared towards street people, HIV patients, and children - and he just fit right in the charity. He provides as a father for the children. Sometimes I will call and tell him I am bringing home one more baby and he says there is no space, but by the time I reach home, him go buy the lumber and make the bed because he knows I am not leaving that child." laughed Townsend.
Having yearly reunions and treats for the children in the community, this selfless woman has impacted several individuals. Among them is a young man, David Morgan, who she helped through 6th form while he resided there and saw to his move to college in order to study religion.
"Everything worked out like a miracle, even the very encounter with Miss Townsend. The Lord worked through her and He spoke to me. It was good for me to have been here because where my life was and where it is now, I don't think I would be adequately prepared for certain things had I not come here. I have no regrets and I wish she continues to work, and I will continue to give back in any way I can."
Townsend's ultimate goal is to secure a plot of land - five acres or less - to house a hospice for the HIV patients, an infirmary for the senior citizens, a children's home, and a place for the mentally challenged and the street people.