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Lifeguard teaches inner-city youth to swim from crime

Published:Sunday | December 15, 2019 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
A group of youths take instructions from lifeguard Everton Brown (right) during one of his training exercises at the YMCA pool in St Andrew recently.
Brown (left) conducts a simulation exercise at the YMCA pool in St Andrew.

Lifeguard Everton Brown has always dreamed about forming a swim club for inner-city youths and a decade ago he was well on his way to achieving his dream. But then the West Kingston incursion occurred.

The stand-off, which ended with the deaths of more than 70 residents of West Kingston in 2010, also shattered a swim programme Brown had started with students of Denham Town High School, located in the heart of West Kingston.

Despite his best efforts, Brown said that he has failed to reignite the club’s momentum.

“Working with the inner-city youths gives me joy, and because of that I always wanted to start a club for them. We actually started but, since the incursion, it just broke down. Some persons just can’t be found and we just haven’t [got] back there,” said Brown, a resident of Whitfield Town, Kingston.

“I have always wanted to change lives and let them (inner-city) youths know that there is better out there … Swimming is not just a recreational activity, it is a way to develop life skills, and you can earn from it,” added Brown, who heads an inner-city lifeguard training programme being sponsored by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).

Mona Sue-Ho, JSIF social development manager, said that the lifeguard programme was designed and funded by JSIF at more than $20 million. More than 100 at-risk, inner-city youths are being targeted for the programme which started in October and ends in February next year.

Youth employment

“We have to explore alternative employment options, and the ‘blue economy’ offers significant opportunities for youth employment. So we wanted to ensure that we are making the best of those opportunities,” said Sue-Ho, who has been steering several social intervention initiatives in the Denham Town and Tivoli Gardens communities.

“We are working in very volatile and economically deprived communities and it is very much important for us to provide alternative sources for youths to generate a source of livelihood instead of being lured into criminal activities,” she continued, noting that transportation and meals for the volunteers are also paid for by the fund.

Five years ago, Brown lost his left leg to diabetes and describes it as an emotional period which he seldom speaks about.

His disability, however, took a back seat as he commanded the attention and respect, and instructed at least 30 inner-city youths about proper first-aid procedures last Saturday.

Discipline is fundamental to the programme, he explained, noting that in additional to fun and frolic, the youngsters are taught the importance of lifeguard duties, and are also offered a listening ear.

“Once you have God in your life and you put everything to Him, there is nothing in this world that can stop you from [persevering]. I know that when God comes I will be a perfect man again. I will have all my limbs,” he said.

Brown is assisted by lifeguard coaches Ishedo Wolfe and Mahalia Martin, who have also developed a special bond with some of the trainees.

Earlier this month, 24-year-old trainee Jhovanie Gordon, a resident of Tivoli Gardens, said that there is a great need for more social intervention in communities like his.

“Tivoli Gardens is not a bad place. It is just the people who give the area a bad name. But this programme has done a lot for me. It gets me out, let me experience people and places,” he said, adding that his lifeguard training will one day assist him in getting a job in the hotel sector or overseas.