Mon | May 20, 2019

Kids barred from Hope - Wards in state care forced to jostle in traffic to enter public park

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2019 | 12:41 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
Access through the back gate to Hope Botanic Gardens has been restricted to wards of the Jamaica National Children’s Home. On Saturdays, when the children are granted two hours of supervised cycling for leisure, they are forced to take an approximately 20-minute ride via the busy Gordon Town and Old Hope roads.

Wards of the Jamaica National Children’s Home yesterday received a donation of 10 bicycles, helmets and other safety equipment, but there are concerns that lack of access to the rear of Hope Botanic Gardens in St Andrew could put a spoke in the wheels of their cycling and mentorship programme.

The bicycles were donated by the Fun and Drills Adventure Club based on Charlemont Drive, which six years ago started a riding and mentorship club at the children’s home in a bid to bolster leisure and exercise activities for kids hungry for outdoor stimulation.

There are 84 children deemed to be in need of care and protection by the State at the home.

Two years ago, however, the club was forced to press brakes after the management at Hope Gardens cut off direct access to the property from the children’s home located metres away, allegedly because of security concerns.

The children are instead directed to ride along a bumpy, dusty roadway to the congested Gordon Town main road, turn on to the busy Old Hope Road, and make their way through the main entrance to Hope Gardens.

But that option is too dangerous, said Charles Williams, senior coordinator of the Fun and Drills Adventure Club, who yesterday stopped short of calling the alternative route preposterous.

“We are being deprived of the opportunity to help the children to ride in Hope Gardens, which is safe and peaceful on a Saturday morning, to give them a different outlook on life.

“We have been trying our best, asking the powers that be to open the back gate between 6:30 and 8:30, and we have reached nowhere,” said Williams, noting that there are two back gates, both of which have been closed off by park administration.

“If we carry them down Old Hope Road and a vehicle hits them or anything, we would be in serious trouble. They have told us that they have to close the gate because of security reasons,” continued Williams, whose group treated the children at the home yesterday morning.

“We would have to carry them on Hope Road where cars are driving, taxi men driving carelessly. It would be far better to just carry them down that little track there and into Hope Gardens,” he said.

Yesterday, Byron Blake, chief financial officer at Hope Gardens, said the safety of visitors to the park was of primary concern, and it would cost more than management could afford to hire two security guards to stand guard outside the back gate.

FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS

“For that gate to be opened, you will have to have a guard there at all times … at least two security guards, because generally, you don’t put one guard at a place to work. So we have that financial constraint,” he said.

“If we can get a sponsor to put two security guards at the back gate, then that may work. But otherwise, what we say is that you enter from the other gate; we can’t open that gate, definitely,” he said, noting that the management team would mull over making ‘special arrangements’ for the gate to be opened for two hours on Saturdays.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Commander George Overton, president of the Jamaica Society of Industrial Security, told The Sunday Gleaner that it could cost under $1,000 an hour to hire a security guard to oversee one gate.

“That could cost from a low of $350 to a high of $840 for each guard for an hour,” he said, noting that not all circumstances demand that two security guards are posted at a gate.

“It depends on how the gate is structured. If you have an exit and an entrance, separate and separated, then certainly you would have two guards. If you have the same gate, depending on the traffic flow, you can get away with one security guard,” explained Overton.

Meanwhile, Leroy Anderson, director of the National Children’s Home, said the children benefit both psychologically and physically from the cycling and mentorship club.

“First and foremost, it helps them with the level of discipline that goes into riding. It teaches them safety, how to be ordered; it enhances self-esteem,” he said of some of the children, who are mentally and physically challenged.

“It gives them a good opportunity to exercise and it is an incentive. They love it, and when you withdraw the privilege of something someone loves, it really hits that place,” he said.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com