Fri | Aug 14, 2020

Samaritans ‘adopt’ daughter of mentally ill woman

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2020 | 12:13 AMCorey Robinson/Senior Staff Reporter
May Pen philanthropist and CEO of National Selfserve Wholesale, Anna Chang Liao, presents 18-month-old Kim with a tablet on June 19.
May Pen philanthropist and CEO of National Selfserve Wholesale, Anna Chang Liao, presents 18-month-old Kim with a tablet on June 19.

It is not uncommon to see homeless mothers, some struggling with mental health issues, walking Jamaican streets with young children in tow.

In fact, that was the case for 32-year-old Venice Dawkins, a thriving Clarendon vendor and mother of four who suffered a mental breakdown and started ‘acting out’ in 2017.

Though not homeless, Dawkins’ mother, Angella Pennant, said it has been a difficult task to keep her daughter from roaming the streets, sometimes naked, and at one point, she was taking the children with her from their home in May Pen.

It gets worse when she doesn’t take her medication, Pennant said, adding that on one of her roams a year ago, Dawkins became pregnant with Kim.

Although she named the child, Dawkins has failed to identify Kim’s father, and Pennant, 53, has given up asking – even though she struggles to help take care of her daughter’s children.

Those conversations often end in awkward, nonsensical responses, she told The Gleaner as she sobbed, heartbroken at Dawkins’ condition and the uncertain fate of the innocent newborn.

Last month, however, there seemed to be a silver lining for the baby, as Anna Chang Liao, co-operator of the National Self Serve Wholesale in Clarendon, and Otis James, founder of the charity group James and Friends Foundation, were moved to ‘adopt’ the infant, promising monthly maintenance and school support for the child up to high school.

“We have not legally adopted her, but we have taken over all of her expenses. Anything she needs in terms of diapers or if she gets sick and needs to go to the doctor, ... anything like that, we will be responsible for footing those expenses,” explained James, father of two girls and whose foundation assists more than 200 struggling children in the parish with school and living expenses.

“I received several letters from the community asking for help for Kim. Her mother has been sick and her story is depressing by itself. She got pregnant while she was sick and on the road, and Kim basically has no father,” he added.

“If it wasn’t for her grandmother, things would be far more difficult for them. So we are going to be her father,” he said, noting that Dawkins’ other children will also receive support through the foundation.

“We will ensure that every month she gets her feeding, juice, and so forth, and that she will get into school come ‘September morning’,” he pledged.

Chang Liao, who was last year made a member of the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for her work in entrepreneurship and philanthropy, described it as her duty to give back to the people of May Pen.

“I’m a mother of four and I know it must be very hard. So, you know, I have to help Kim. I’m glad to adopt and take care of her, and I carry likkle things come to make she feel nice,” said the charming Chang Liao, following a visit to the home with toys and groceries.

She said such visits will be monthly and promised further assistance for Pennant, who is currently Kim’s primary caregiver.

In the meantime, Dawkins, who looked on stoically as the supplies were distributed and as her daughter laughed and played around her, insisted that she was not raped, but that she “nuh know di father or weh him deh”.

According to the latest Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey, Jamaican females are two times more susceptible to mental health issues, especially those tied to depression.

“The national prevalence of depression was 14.3 per cent. For men, this was 9.9 per cent and among women 18.5 per cent ... . The prevalence of depression was highest among urban women (19.2 per cent) and lowest among rural men (7.3 per cent),” read the report, which also outlined a decrease in pregnancies among young women.