‘Y’ don’t you care? - Jamaicans slow to offer help to troubled girls at YWCA
The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Jamaica is not short of girls in need of inspiration, but there is an acute shortage of persons coming forward to offer this guidance and motivation.
"I really find it difficult getting volunteers to come here and actually talk to the girls," said Denise Jeffries, principal of the non-profit organisation.
"I have gone out and asked people to assist, even to just come in and give the girls a little pep talk, and some of them say, 'Lawd God, mi can't bother," Jeffries told The Sunday Gleaner.
She noted that many of the girls who attend the institution are wards of the State, teen mothers, or those who have been rejected by mainstream schools, with some of them appearing hopeless.
"I think some of them have given up hope of ever coming out of the depressed communities that they are from. So, of course, when you at school are trying to motivate them, they go back home into the communities, back to the same issues. It just demotivates them," said Jeffries.
"They can't bother. That is the thing they would say, 'Miss, mi can't bother," she added as she argued that this sense of hopelessness was not as pervasive in previous years.
"The girls in the past, they had a hunger. They were hungry for knowledge. They wanted to get out of the situation that they were in," said the educator, who has been at the institution for the past 20 years.
The school currently has 185 girls enrolled at its Arnold Road branch in Kingston and another 150 girls at another branch in Spanish Town, St Catherine. A few boys are also registered at both locations.
Several of the students were referred by the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency. About 75 per cent of the school's population is on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education.
Despite the limited resources, Jeffries says that she and her 15 teachers have always gone above and beyond to ensure that the girls are equipped with the skills needed to survive after leaving the institution.
A number of subjects are taught at the school and students are exposed to several skill areas, including cosmetology, housekeeping, home management, and food and nutrition.
"I myself, I am a product of the ghetto," said Jeffries.
"I am saying if I can make it out, I know I must can help somebody else along the way to make it out, too. So if it is even one," said the principal, who explained that some of the students showed great potential.
The school's guidance counsellor, Patricia Knightlett, shared a similar sentiment.
"This is a wonderful institution with very talented girls, especially in dancing and drama," she said.
Jeffries is concerned that several of the girls are deprived of parental guidance.
"Sometimes you have to take away the cell phones in order for the parents to come in," she explained.
"The parents, it is as if they have given up all hope on the girls, and they just want to get rid of them from out of the house or from out of the community," she said.