Michael Barnett helps inner-city youths to believe in themselves
Glenda Anderson, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine:'BRING US your ideas and we'll build them' is the part-boast, part-pep talk that Michael Barnett, engineer and executive director of the New Horizon skills training centre in St Catherine, offers his yearly cohort of students.
This year, the group is a motley crew of roughly 50 young men who hail from some of the parish's toughest inner-city communities - Tawes Meadows, Wynter's Pen, and Spanish Town - home to some of the island's fearsome gangs.
Whatever their circumstances, Barnett must first get the youngsters to believe in themselves, key to getting the transformation process started.
He explained: "We have been trying to get the young men fired up about entrepreneurship, excited about working towards their own development, using their skills and what they have learnt here to advance themselves."
This year's theme is 'De Ting Set A Way', which speaks to the reality that even after acquiring a skill, the young men are not guaranteed a job and should be prepared to create their own employment.
Engineering their own future is the idea. "I tell them to take everything from their classes seriously and apply what they have learnt to their environment. Come to class with your ideas and let's build it together."
Started as a dormitory for young men who were forced to leave juvenile penitentiary or state care at age 18, New Horizon is the brainchild of the late Reverend Cedric Lue and is the largest building for miles around. Sitting in the middle of a dusty wasteland, with a rough community football field out front, the centre has emerged as an oasis. It has a growing reputation as the go-to place for creating state-of-the-art machinery and equipment.
Recently, the centre installed a hi-tech plasma laboratory - one of only two computerised plasma cutters in Jamaica - and partnered with the University of the West Indies, Mona, Biotechnology Centre to construct Jamaica's first-ever biochar machine.
To their credit, the young men have also built an electrical flour-processing machine as well as an entire peanut-processing facility which shells and roasts the nuts. It now processes peanuts harvested from 150 acres owned by small farmers in St Elizabeth and Manchester.
Last year, they built 15 small agro-proceessing machines to process peas, peanuts, cane, breadfruit, vegetables for juicing, oranges, and lime, and to produce essential oils. In addition, a bamboo-splitting machine, designed to revolutionise the island's craft industry, is one of their latest projects.
New Horizon is now being recognised as a competent deliverer of high-quality work at a low cost.
The centre runs on an eight-kilowatt solar system, while composting bins are mounted on property for the disposing of tree clippings and other organic waste and clippings. A rainwater catchment sterilisation and reuse system is maintained by the young men.
This is consistent with the policy of self-reliance Barnett has been pushing - getting the young men to apply the principles of science and technology and engineering to everyday life.
He tells of one student who sells charcoal briquettes out of his mother's corner shop while job hunting.
"I talk to them about bartering - using what you have in hand to get what you want. The idea is that when students are finished, even if there are no jobs around, they are still active and involved," stated Barnett.
Michael Barnett helps inner-city youth to believe in themselves