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Stabroek News
The Voice

Lorna Stanley: Fearless in the city
published: Saturday | October 30, 2004


Stanley

Mark Dawes, Staff Reporter

ONE DAY in the early 1990s while walking near a school in Trench Town, Lorna Stanley saw a crowd.

They were shouting "Beat de bwoy", "Don't mek him get away". When she got closer, she saw a fight in progress. One fellow had a machete in his hand and was threatening to chop another fellow.

Something in Lorna Stanley's head said: 'Stop the fight.'

She reports, "I heard distinctly, 'I have not given you a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind'." She grabbed the hand which held the machete and said "In the name of Jesus you going to kill the boy?" Somehow, her intervention served to defuse the tension ­ she spoke to the crowd and they slowly dispersed.

The following day she was walking through Trench Town when a young man sitting under a tree called to her. He said: "Hey Miss, you nuh memba me?"

She answered: "No."

He replied: "Me a de youth who you stop from chop up the boy yesterday. Mi did a go kill de boy. But a people like you must come down here and reason with the youths dem ­ cause nobody nuh care bout we. We will listen to the elders ­ like you. You did really reach we yesterday and we go home go talk about it. And we feel bad about it ­ how you come and stand up and talk to we."

AFFIRMATION OF CALLING

That conversation was affirmation to the sense of divine call Mrs. Stanley felt in returning to Jamaica to live in 1994 after being away from the island for many years. More specifically, in her heart, she felt that conversation was confirmation that God wanted her not just to be back in Jamaica but to be serving the people of Trench Town.

Mrs. Stanley, a member of Christian Life Fellowship Church in Papine, St. Andrew, is the founder and principal of Operation Restoration Christian School ­ formerly a basic school, now a remedial centre for persons who have dropped out of the formal school system.

Mrs. Stanley is one of several Christians who have been specifically targeting Trench Town and its environs for meaningful socio-economic and spiritual ministries. She, like so many church leaders operating in the area, believe that when positive transformation comes to Trench Town, it is bound to affect the rest of Jamaica favourably. She believes that whenever Trench Town is transformed, the rest of the nation cannot be far behind.

JAMAICA ON HER MIND

Mrs. Stanley was born in Panama to a Jamaican mother and a Costa Rican father. Her mother brought her to live in Jamaica when she was a small girl. She attended Kingston Technical High School and was, at one point, one of the secretaries to National Hero Norman Manley.

She emigrated to the United States in early adulthood and lived there for 31 years. She held many jobs while she was there, and was at one point a paralegal, an aide to a Florida Congressman, the owner of her own public relations firm, and a reporter with the Palm Beach Post newspaper.

Jamaica was always on her mind, largely because she had a good childhood growing up here and the people were kind to her. She served Jamaican organisations in the U.S. and kept in touch with local happenings by regular visits.

Then, in 1994, she returned with a burden to help small children. As a result, she established Operation Restoration Christian School, which began as a basic school. This infant centre became a runaway success as, not long after it began, 'war' erupted between Rema and nearby Tivoli and this conflict lasted for four years.

This caused many parents to relocate their children and so they moved them to Operation Restoration Christian School. During the afternoon, the infant school was transformed into a homework centre which served mostly the older children of Trench Town. In later years, the infant school was taken over by members of Covenant Community Church.

While helping students with their homework, Mrs. Stanley realised that a number of them could hardly read ­ or not at all. To address this need, Operation Restoration Christian School gave birth to an all-age school. The school's fame spread.

She started remedial classes for a few footballers from the area who were playing Under-15 football for Jamaica. Soon many students in a similar position came to her classes.

"I had no idea that so many people were attending school or not going to school who had no idea about the sounds of the vowels," she said.

The remedial school grew leaps and bounds overnight. The school coached a number of students to the point where many did well on Grade Nine Achievement Tests and were admitted to traditional high schools. Then the school was inundated with more students.

In the words of Mrs. Stanley, the all-age school became "too successful," and had to be phased out as the institution did not have the human and financial resources to make it sustainable..

TEACHING SKILLS NOW

At present, the school is focusing on helping mostly street boys with an education , where , in addition to literacy and numeracy, students are taught leather craft, welding, hairdressing, and how to make a T-shirt.

As her students began to learn, she said, their attitudes began to change for the better. Interestingly, neither Mrs. Stanley nor her teaching staff are trained.

The students' population is about 85 altogether ­ 40 of whom are evening school students. Teenage girls have not done as well as the boys. The school has a ratio of about six boys for every one girl. Many of the girls have dropped out of the school, Mrs. Stanley said, because of relationships they have forged with men.

Despite a shoe-string budget and many obstacles, Mrs. Stanley continues to offer hope to the youngsters attending her school ­ quite a number of which she said have accepted Christ as their Saviour but are not being properly disciplined. She welcomes the involvement of mature Christians to guide the young converts and to ensure that they are transported to church.

FEARLESS, NOT RECKLESS

It is not unusual for Mrs. Stanley to be sought out as a conciliator in Trench Town.

One year, during the Christmas season, two gangs, Action Pack and Lock the City faced each other on either side of Collie Smith Drive in Trench Town.

She ran in the middle of the road and said, 'You all not starting no gunfight here today! You all not starting any war down here. Man? What kind of man unno? The man that I knew when I was growing up thump down man. You don't kill man. I tell you something, I am going to stand here all day and if you fire gunshot then you going to shoot me because I ain't moving. I said, 'Tell me something, how can you possibly have a war over one jelly coconut?"

The gunfight that was seething was nipped.

She explained, "I am not trying to be heroic. I am not trying to prove anything. But I really believe in my heart that the Bible says: 'No weapon formed against me will prosper'. You have to use a lot of wisdom."

"I tell people, I am fearless, but I am not reckless. If I hear gunshots firing down there, I am not going to just walk into it and drive down there. There is something in my spirit that says it is going to be okay. If this was just of me, I would have walked away from this long ago."

She said she puts her life on the line for something bigger than herself ­ so big she can't begin to explain. Furthermore when she see how lives have been touched and changed, she knows that what she is doing is empowered by God.

Last year, Mrs. Stanley received a National Honour - the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service for her work in Trench Town. She continues to be teacher, counselor and confidante. She enjoys the respect of the good and bad of Trench Town.

She attributes much of her success in Trench Town to the goodness of God and the fact that she reasons with the people, listens to them, and loves them - and they know that she loves them.

Send feedback to mark.dawes@gleanerjm.com

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