Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
With some 140 children in and around Spanish Town, St Catherine, about to miss out on the opportunity to continue their education through the remedial education programme provided by Children First, the agency's executive director, Claudette Richards-Pious, is calling for Jamaicans to give a different kind of gift this Christmas season.
Struggling to meet its operational costs, the teachers, social workers and children at the centre along Wellington Street in Spanish Town have accepted the dark reality that this could be the final lap for the 15-year-old organisation.
Children First, a non-governmental agency, opened its doors in Jamaica in 1997 and has been providing basic skills training, remedial education, counselling and career guidance to children ever since.
But now the fate of the school depends on the generosity of Jamaicans and private entities that are known to be particularly generous during the Yuletide season. It's with this in mind that the executive director is calling for Jamaicans to give something different to the benefit of the young minds at Children First.
"There is so much more to the lives of the young people that we serve than the Christmas food. This year, we are making an appeal to corporate Jamaica and civil society that our reality is that we have more than 140 children who, come January, will not be in school because we don't have the resources to keep them in school and they have not been able to secure a place in the regular school system," Richards-Pious pleaded yesterday.
"This term, we tried to do everything from selling cakes and bag juice; we have done everything humanly possible. I know based on how it's looking that there is no way I will be able to continue in January as it is."
Richards-Pious said a part of what has contributed to the current crisis was the fact that international donors who once funded the project have moved on.
"A lot of the funding sources have moved elsewhere because we are now considered a middle-income country. We are trying to work towards sustainability as an organisation but we are not there yet, we need help to do it," she said.
Money Needed for December salaries
Richards-Pious added that one of the immediate needs of the agency was to find the money to cover the December salaries for the teachers, social workers and others who work with the children and ask Jamaicans to chip in and lend a helping had.
She is also worried that the closure of the school could spell trouble for the children and the already volatile communities of Spanish Town with so many of them having no employable skills and too much idle time on their hands.
"'Miss, hell bruk loose outta road if we nuh inna school'," she said was the response of one child to the issue of the impending closure.
"I said to him, 'You can't get yourself in any trouble' and his reply was, 'A nuh me a go look fi trouble, trouble a come look fi me because a so the thing set'," she said.
"This is our worry now. The teachers cried because they are worried but this is our reality, we have tried everything," she told The Gleaner.
Persons wanting to assist can contact Children First at: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 984- 0367 or 984- 2839.