When I returned from my visit to a preschool in the Beetham last week, I
cut my hair short to mark the day, so I would remember. The morning
unfolded like an uneasy dream in slow motion. I kept repeating to
myself: “Two hundred murders already, and we are just halfway through
the year. So many teens among them, shot point-blank?"
My little foray to the Beetham, thanks to Simone de la Bastide, barely
scratched the surface into how and why a nine-year-old child like Jadel
Holder and his 15-year-old brother Jamal, in this sweet, hot, rainy,
mango-laden country, could be made to reportedly lie down on their
living-room floor and be shot at point-blank range, in front of their
As we wound our way into the Beetham, Simone told me she was taking me
to meet Wayne Jordan, the founder and force behind the preschool Each
One Teach One. It is now supported by Simone’s new brainchild, the
Children’s Ark, an NGO that helps at-risk children—underprivileged,
abused, abandoned, addicted. Simone, with 15 years of social work behind
her (starting with her first NGO venture, Wand— Women in Action for the
Needy and Destitute) and now chairman of the Children’s Ark, told me of
the stories that eat away at our core but don’t make headlines.
She told me of the shameful disrepair of some of the 52 unregulated
children’s homes; of toddlers who regularly fall down in buckets or
adult toilets; of rooms overstuffed with toys from Good Samaritans—and
overrun by rats and cockroaches; of unsupervised children engaging in
sexual activity; of abuse at all levels. The Government’s excuse for not
shutting down unacceptable homes is that until the Children’s Authority
Act is fully proclaimed, they cannot enforce regulations to end abuse
and health issues.
This is a clear signal to us all that if they don’t care about children,
they can’t care about the future of this country. We had a chance to
walk around. Drainage made up narrow pathways dividing rows of
galvanised homes. We bumped into groups of boys. A boy, around 17, with
piercing light eyes and a face that belonged on the cover of GQ, was
sitting on a wall in one group. His friends were languishing in various
positions around him, one with a heavy gold chain and ring, the others
looking in need of a good meal, hug-up, sleep and shower. Their eyes lit
up with curiosity. They were still children. The cynical say they know
their life expectancy is low, so they live for the day.
I stopped, and said, “Can I ask you some questions?” “Sure, miss.” They
smiled cheekily. They are 17, 18, and 21 years old. I asked, “Why aren’t
you in school?” They looked to each other for cues. “I is trouble,” said
the almondeyed boy. “What?” I asked. He wouldn’t say. They know
everything. They know about the guns and the drugs, the drug lords, the
middlemen, the construction gangs.
Studies show that gangs dealing with drugs, use the little pawns like
these boys, who make less than minimum wage. They’ve devalued their own
lives. To every question, they said, “I don’t know anything, I inside my
house, 24-0.” I asked, “Can you take me to your home?” “No, miss, it
hard to get to.” I said, “Okay, I won’t ask what age you held a gun or
who you saw shot dead, but have you been hungry?” “Yes, miss, hungry,
plenty times. Our father locks up the kitchen. We never see him. We
don’t know what he does. We wait for him whole day to eat.” I asked,
“Did anyone hurt you?” Three downturned mouths face me. “Yes, miss,
plenty licks.” “Mother or father?” “Both, miss.” “Anyone else?” “Yes,
They don’t know where their mother is. She lives somewhere with another
man. Further down the drain track, a woman, “Miss Lorna,” stands at her
verandah. I ask if I can come in. She invites us into her cluttered
home. Inside one room lives her 30-year-old son with wasted legs. He
can’t walk. The family thinks it’s obeah. Miss Lorna from Grenada has
lived for 30 years with her disabled son beneath homes, amidst puddles
of fish and rainwater. She worked in the La Basse. Her son, with a big
stomach, crawls about, on his belly, from mattress to toilet. That’s his
life. He says he believes he will walk one day, but he never goes out.
The wheelchair is untouched. His eyes are hopeless.
Further down the drain we meet three women playing allfours under a
galvanised shed. The heavily pregnant one is smoking into the face of
the other pregnant one. They each have six children already. They are 29
years old. No sign of the children.
The childless one, to my question as to whether she wanted a job,
replied, “Yeah,” impatient to get on with the game. This is a cocooned
world with its own rules. I would soon encounter the school the
Children’s Ark helped build, Each One Teach One. My leaping faith at
this nurturing preschool in the midst of hopelessness, is obscured by a
shocking act done by one preschooler to another.