Former wards of State grateful as they start tertiary studies

NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD Oniel Taylor, a former ward of the State, is today grateful that he was among more than 100 people — current and former wards of the State — to receive a laptop or a Samsung tablet Monday to assist him in completing a degree in coaching at the GC Foster College in St Catherine.

The acquisition of the 135 tablets and 25 laptops, at a cost of approximately US$35,000, was made possible through a fund-raising initiative led by the outreach organisation Children of Jamaica.

Taylor, who is currently in his first year at GC Foster, plans to apply to the Jamaica Defence Force to become an officer at the end of his studies. But the journey he endured to reach this stage was a rough one as at the age of nine he was forced to fend for himself.

Speaking to the Jamaica Observer Monday at the offices of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) on Duke Street in Kingston, Taylor said residents of the community from which he lived in Trelawny came together and decided that contacting the CPFSA to put him into State care was in his best interest.

“When my mom died I was up and down, but I was still going to school… at Duncan’s Primary. [I recall when] someone came to me and said that the principal called me. When I went [to the office there were two women from the] CDA (Child Development Agency) and after discussions I ended up at the National Children’s Home, then transferred to Mannings [Home for Boys] in St Elizabeth. I was about 10 and I felt bad, but I figured it was for a good reason. My mother died from sugar when I was nine and my father wasn’t in a position to help me out.

“Being at home [after the death of my mother] was difficult. Being in State care was difficult too, but it more help mi fi go school, have food and a roof over my head. It was challenging because most of the time you have ‘war and all a dem thing deh’. As you say something or accidentally touch a man [a problem]. At 16 or 17 I am one of the ones who they really respect because me deh deh longtime, so when you come you you have manners. I was focusing on school as I was attending Newell High School in St Elizabeth,” he said, adding that he was at the boys’ home until age 18, but was successful in his external examinations.

“I realised that when I finished at GC Foster College with a degree in coaching, it would help me become an officer in the army, so I would get good money and do what I have to do. I am in my first year and it is going well. As you know, college is hard, but you have to keep up your mindset.”

Eighteen-year-old Trishama White, also a former ward, who now attends Knox Community College, was excited when she received her laptop. She is now studying customer engagement and business administration and wants to delve into entrepreneurship after completing her degree.

She told the Observer that she was grateful she no longer has to borrow her friends’ computer to sit exams.

She said her time in State care was rough, but said she owes a big debt to staff at the Summerfield Residential Child Care Facility in Clarendon for teaching her to “put her hands to good use and avoid laziness”.

“I feel good about about the laptop because it can help me in doing my schoolwork and maybe push me further. I started Knox last year November and it’s not going really good. My device was small and it doesn’t have a lot of space on it to download Zoom [for online classes]. But I get notes from the teachers and when it is exam time I borrow somebody’s laptop.

White said she went into State care at age 14 years and described her experience as ‘good and bad’. “The good was that I learned a lot. Things I didn’t know to do, I learned at the facilities. How to cook, I didnt learn that from my parents. At home I was lazy but at the facility we have to get up and do chores. The bad was malicing other people and fighting.

“… I give thanks to the Lord and the Summerfield staff, of course, because without them I don’t think I would reach far. I want to say thanks for this laptop and the CPFSA for facilitating it,” she said.

Founder of the Children of Jamaica Outreach organisation Gary Williams, who is based in New York, was happy to hand over the Samsung and Dell devices on Monday. COVID-19 restrictions, he said, prevented the organisation from keeping up its annual programme.

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