Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Thieves strip Children First - Spanish Town-based organisation for the most needy cleaned out by robbers

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Barbering instructor Anthony Miles looks on as his student, Caniggia Wilks, trims 10-year-old Malick Mohammed at Children First.
Coordinator of the cosmetology class at Children First, Debiesha Bennett-Moodie, shows 17-year-old Viveen Skinner how it is done.

They celebrated 19 years last Thursday, but it was not a happy day for staff of non-governmental organisation Children First, as they were still struggling to come to grips with the fact that thieves had broken into their facility and left with all their cosmetology and barbering equipment.

Executive director of the Spanish Town-based organisation, Claudette Pious-Richardson, is still in shock, as these tools have been used for years to help transform the lives of several residents.

The theft has made learning a bit more challenging for the 45 students between the ages of 10 to 35 years old who are currently benefiting from the organisation's cosmetology and barbering programme.

"We have been there for too long, so I am just a bit concerned for this to happen now. We have been helping the communities. We have people that have done well, set up their own business and employed others," Pious-Richardson told The Sunday Gleaner.

"I just feel a little violated, because if I have given so much to the community, I don't really expect that this is going to happen," she said.




The Monk Street head office was broken into about three weeks ago, but the organisation has not been able to purchase replacements. The thieves left nothing behind. When the staff turned up at work on May 24, they found an empty classroom bereft of barber chairs, portable workstations, mirrors, flat irons, and even their blow-dryer.

Administrator at Children First, Vandrea Thompson, said the theft has been depressing and devastating for the staff.

"This is one of our flagship initiatives. We have barbers, we have nail techs who have set up their own businesses, have gone on work experiences, have participated in the National Association of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists competitions and have really made an impact," said Thompson.

"For the 10 to 16 years old, it is really giving them prevocational skills, so they get an understanding. We know that they are not able to be working at that age, but we are just giving them the basic skills so that when they move from here, they can go on to different institutions to get advancement in terms of the skills," added Thompson.

These younger students are beneficiaries of the Children First Achievement Centre, which provides remedial education to children so that they can matriculate into the formal system. The organisation provides several other life-changing programmes for children, adolescents and young adults.

"Children First serves underprivileged young people. Youngsters who are from volatile communities in Spanish Town, communities that are polarised by gang violence," said Thompson.

"It is really about giving them a second chance. We have parents and young people who are the breadwinners of their family, so it's giving them a skill, giving them an opportunity to make them a little bit more marketable," she said.

Coordinator for the organisation's cosmetology programme, Debiesha Bennett-Moodie, said the students have been improvising since the theft.

Instead of workstations, they now have to use desk and chairs to do nails, and the barbering students have been forced to ask their clients to sit on metal chairs whenever they are doing their practicals.

"We don't want them to sit around and not do anything and stop from school," said Bennett-Moodie.




A former intern who resides in Sweden has contributed funds to purchase at least two barber chairs, and someone contributed a hair dryer and a nail station, but the organisation is still far from where it was. Several persons, including corporate Jamaicans, have also pledged to assist but many of these promises have not yet been fulfilled. Still, Pious-Richardson said the verbal encouragement have inspired her to continue the programme despite the challenges.

"People don't have money and they don't have things to give us back, but the words of encouragement on a daily basis that have been coming are really encouraging," she said.

"I have all these young people and I can't send them home, but the good thing is that they are willing to work with me under the condition," she shared.