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posted 14 Mar 2017, 08:36 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 14 Mar 2017, 08:50 ]

"You can't blame the youths of today
You can't fool the youth...
Teach the youths to learn in school
That the cow jump over the moon''

Peter Tosh

Image result for st michaels home for boys
St Michaels' Home
For those of us who would like to blame 'drugs' for everything from traffic jams to 'Mardi Gras' mas the story of the adoption' a 'lad' from the St. Michael’s Home for Boy's for a week end is instructive. A word here: officers at places like St. Michael’s Home and the Youth Training Centre use the term 'lad' to describe those in their care. The young men are not convicts.

This writer, through a State company's outreach programme, has interacted with five/5 state run facilities for disadvantaged children and teenagers over more than a decade. The story is consistent: underfunding, lack of professional training in many instances, lack of accountability. Of course they provide perfect opportunities for 'false charity'. What is false charity? Keeping an environment/circumstance that does not change but allows the 'concerned’ to make noble and 'humanitarian' gestures and appear noble and caring.

Some, like the Youth Training Centre, are better managed, having educational programmes and day release work programmes. It also engages in a high level of cultural activity. They have a strong tradition of excelling is sports such as rugby, basketball, track and field and boxing. At the St. Jude's home for Girls efforts have been made to provide for the needs of the young women who are placed there. The challenge here is that as the name suggests it is a board school and may not have similar resources as the YTC. The managers do make sincere efforts.

It is instructive how some of the girls end up in the St. Jude's Home. Some are deemed 'unmanageable' by school or parents and after being processed through the court system are placed at the Home. Others are victims of 'gender based violence' in and out of the home and are forced to defend themselves. Some of these persons have lost parent/parents through natural causes, through criminal activity, through sheer poverty i.e. parents cannot make ends meet. Some have faced indescribable trauma seeing persons shot and/or killed.

I remember visiting the then El Dorado Youth camp for girls a few years ago. It is a large campus and, en route to administration, I was shown a room where a meeting was taking place. Behind the doors were some 30 children who had seen parents/relatives killed.

A word in passing: the decision to close the Youth camp system was another serious contributor to the alienation and economic incapacitation of a large section of our youth. The Youth camps provide trained persons for most of the public utilities, the military and para-military. This writer has met instructors in the 2 remaining Youth camps at Praesto Persto and Chatham who were proud to state that they were students at the very institutions.

Are there persons and professionals who make efforts to help them? Yes: but as in education, as in health, the system has been broken for years and the heroic efforts of some are not enough to help the many. The bureaucracy for dealing with just one matter is much like going to the Industrial Court.

I do not know how much may have changed at St. Michael’s but I recall that on the weekends the educational programs would have ended and essentially a security/supervisory staff was in charge. So the counsellors and other care givers would have left. The living conditions in these places, for reasons outlined above, are unsatisfactory. Then one is dealing with 11 and 12 year olds who have to learn fast how to adapt and survive in these environments.

One soon realises that there is a system, a pathway that may begin in St. Michael’s or St. Dominic's and lead straight to Maximum Security with stops along the way at the Y.T.C. No it is not permanent detention/incarceration. In and out of prison/the homes this is their peer group. As with any social setting, groups are formed on kinship, common need, common background. Of course, for some 'authorities' it is preferable and easier to label the groups/individuals as gangsters, delinquents, 'wutless/worthless'' and keep them marginalised. Of course when they mature and fulfil expectations, some loudly complain about the 'crime rate' which has simply burgeoned and crossed borders.

This case which is currently in the news is simply bringing into view a situation which has ripened and expanded and which is further coming into view. Absent the will to investigate, this 'story' populated by defenceless children, will evaporate like the ones about the St. Mary's Home in Tacarigua where similar irregularities were reported but not conclusively investigated.

But these young men and women will 'graduate' into the wider world, moulded and shaped by these experiences by their particular social curriculum. For those of us who are unaware, these now young men and women can be as bright, as intelligent as anyone out here. They would tell you that for many of them 'rehabilitation' can really be a bad joke. Some have to hide their past when they get into relationships or seek employment.

I began by debunking the myth that 'drugs/the drug trade'' is to be blamed for all our social ills. Sorry dear reader. Let us open our eyes and see how incorrect that is.