Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
THE BOYS stood at attention in the cool Monday afternoon sun, obeying the commands of camp director Christopher Pierre.
"Form three straight lines and face forward!" he sternly instructed.
They promptly fell into formation inside the courtyard of the Central Village New Testament Church of God, St Catherine.
Taking note of the ground rules being laid down by their camp director, the young men prepared to embark on the first day of the two-week boys' camp.
Now in its fifth year, the church initiated the programme with the determination to rescue the boys of the troubled Central Village community from a life of crime and violence.
Breaking the cycle
"We wanted to do something to break the cycle of crime and violence that has plagued Central Village. We knew that the only way to do this was to reach out to the young men in a different way to curb them from what has been the norm," said pastor, Dwight Peccoo.
"The boys needed direction. They were leaning to the wrong side of the fence, so we had to do something to rescue them and steer them in the right direction."
Focusing on boys age nine to 20 years old, the camp initially catered for 120, but over the years, more and more young men have been joining the programme.
The two-week course entails academic, skills, discipline training, educational field trips, motivational seminars on a number of issues, counselling, conflict resolution seminars, community clean-up days, assisting the elderly in several infirmaries, career days, cultural activities, and arts and craft, among other activities.
At the end of the camp, 12 scholarships are awarded to the most outstanding boys who have earned awards such as Camper of the Year, Most Disciplined, Best Behaving, and Most Improved.
"We are very grateful for the support we have been getting from those who have helped to fund the programme. The community is also very supportive," said Peccoo.
Eighteen-year-old Joseph Rattingan, 17-year-old Donorio Hartley, 16-year-old Kashane Cuff, 13-year-old Javaughn St Marie, and 12-year-old Donoi Hartley have been attending the camp for a number of years and are grateful for the opportunities and guidance offered.
"This camp has helped to keep my brain fresh. It has enlightened me about things like safe sex and how to deal with conflict. I really see this camp aiding me and my fellow peers in our voyage of success across the sea of opportunity. I think this is a great move by the administrators," said Donorio, who intends to become a cardiologist.
Most Disciplined boy for last year and future army man, Javaughn, said, "The camp has helped me fundamentally and in academics. I also learnt a lot about my environment, life, safe sex, and a lot of other things."
"This camp has helped to build my knowledge and level of maturity in being a real young man. It has helped me to be better than I was in school. I was a rude boy giving a lot of trouble, and then I saw this camp, came, and listened and tried to learn something, and I changed," said future architect, 12-year-old Donoi.
Peccoo shared that he was pleased to see the turnaround in the boys and the new direction in which the community was moving.
"There was a point where persons could not cross the border from one community to the next. Andrews Lane, Little Lane, and Big Lane did not see eye to eye on a number of things, which often caused violent outbreaks," said the pastor.
"Today, we are seeing those barriers broken down and members of the communities interacting with each other."