Tue | Nov 28, 2023

Positive Pathways project steers inner-city youth from crime, violence

Published:Monday | January 17, 2022 | 12:06 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Pastor Jayson Downer addressing youth attending the USAID-funded Positive Pathways initiative in Jones Town, south St Andrew.
Pastor Jayson Downer addressing youth attending the USAID-funded Positive Pathways initiative in Jones Town, south St Andrew.

The youth of Jones Town and nearby communities in south St Andrew have started to benefit from a seven-week series of development and life skills training aimed at increasing economic opportunities and reducing youth involvement in crime and violence in Jamaica.

The training is being delivered by volunteers from the Jones Town/Craig Town Benevolent Society (JTCTBS) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as part of the Positive Pathways initiative, which awarded 14 grants worth $21 million to community organisations in November 2021 to support 500 parents, caregivers, and youth.

USAID’s Positive Pathways, a five-year project, aims to minimise youth engagement in crime and violence in 12 Jamaican communities by strengthening the resilience of the youth, their parents and caregivers, and assisting youngsters in choosing positive pathways that deviate them from the violent nature of their communities.

The Hands and Hearts United project, which was launched on December 31 at the Jones Town Amphitheatre, will benefit a total of 30 youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and 44 parents and caregivers of these young persons.

The programme’s objective is to provide a safe environment for youth engagement and advocacy, as well as to provide sources of alternative possibilities to the youth that will have a positive impact on their general attitude, behaviour, and view on life.

Some 30-plus youth attended the first development and skills sessions on Saturday, where they were taught basic computer skills and mentored by Pastor Jayson Downer, guest motivational speaker and president of Men of God Against Violence and Abuse (MoGAVA), a group he founded in 2013.

Downer explained to the participants that while they had no control over the environment they were born in and the circumstances they were born into, they do have power over their choices and who they choose to become in the future.

“You had no choice whether you were gonna be born in Jones Town, Arnette Gardens, Tivoli ... you had no choice in whether your parents were gonna be rich, poor ... [but] you have control over your actions and to become who you want to become,” he said.

Downer, who grew up with a father who was incarcerated, urged the youngsters to avoid the kind of friends that can lead them astray.

Intervention timely and relevant

Itinia Henry, executive director of the JTCTBS, told The Gleaner that this type of intervention is particularly timely and relevant, as many young people in the neighbourhood would otherwise be exposed to negative and unfavourable options.

“There’s not a lot of positive alternatives to their lifestyle,” he said. “So when a programme like what USAID is sponsoring can come along, we have to grab it with every hand that we have and unite around it,” he added.

Programmes such as these are seen as agents of well-needed change by helping the youth through mentorship and development, and provide them with options other than a life of crime.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we need to start from somewhere,” said Henry.

Desrine Bennett, president of the Hands and Hearts United project, said the initiative will assist in moulding young minds and to encourage them to soar to higher heights in their academic endeavours, despite them being in the circumstances that they now have to live through on a daily basis.

“[It’s] very important because when you get them at this level, is like you get them at the grassroot, you get them from the foundation, so certain things they are eliminated from,” she told The Gleaner on Saturday. Bennett added that such initiatives would implore them to not be a part of gambling, smoking, theft and other activities that they witness in their respective communities as they are reminded of their worth and purpose.

Given that programmes such as these are only for a specific period of time, Bennett issued a call for corporate Jamaica for support to extend these interventions that help tackle the issues faced by vulnerable youth.

“The short-term thing is not going to make it, to tell you the truth, because when they leave in seven weeks, some of them probably forget what they learn ... . So what we want is for them to absorb and continue to live whatever they have been taught, so they grow in it,” she said.

Downer, shared the same sentiments, as although he was grateful for the opportunity to contribute in a positive way, he is at the same time saddened by the realities of the youngsters’ environment.

The lack of consistent reinforcement of these values and skills, so as to achieve the desired outcome in volatile communities, makes Downer worried, particularly for young men, as he believes that “if you save the young men, you save the family”.

Jones Town was ranked as one of the country’s 100 most volatile and vulnerable communities under the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) Community Renewal Index, which was established in 2020, with 43 of those neighbourhoods located in Kingston and St Andrew.

Fletcher’s Land, Tivoli Gardens, Majesty Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Rae Town, and Franklyn Town in Kingston are also among the communities.