Surrounded by violence, children learn in fear

More social-intervention programmes need to be implemented across Jamaica to heal inner-city students traumatised by gang violence, says Frances Madden, general manager of Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation.

trapped in fear

Speaking at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Friday, Madden painted a macabre picture of children trapped in fear.

“Studies that we have done showed that there is a sense of phobia in the communities. When the children in these areas are to sleep, they can’t stay on the bed, they instead go under the bed. When they are to leave for school, they are afraid to walk on the roads,” she lamented.

“They are so terrified that they harm themselves, and we ask why these children carry knives and guns to school, but it is because they feel vulnerable,” Madden added.

Madden said there were students in Grace’s outreach programme who could not “be bothered because this week things are nice in their communities and next week is war again”.

She added: “So they have that feeling of hopelessness that it don’t make sense, so we have to make sense to them by helping them.”

Madden noted that the rise in violence has resulted not only in psychological damage, but physiological incapacity as well.

“Some of these children started to wet their beds, some have free bowel movements, so we have to help these children,” she said.

Madden noted that the Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation was committed to assisting children through several social-intervention programmes. However, she said, the demand for assistance was so overwhelming that the foundation had to refer some children to the University of the West Indies or Family Life Ministries, a private counselling centre.

education the key

The foundation’s initiatives include a learning centre, career-advice programme and a forum for inner-city parents.

“Education is our major focus in the foundation because we want to get the kids to remain in school and to aspire to be at the tertiary level,” she told the Editors’ Forum.

Despite the foundation’s benevolence – billed at more than $10 million – Madden said the charity group faced challenges in attracting volunteers from the wider society to participate in behaviour-change programmes.

Currently, the foundation, which is affiliated with the GraceKennedy Group, has close to 500 students – from the primary to tertiary levels – involved in its outreach.

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