"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''
For those of us who would like to blame 'drugs' for everything from traffic jams to 'Mardi Gras' mas, the story of the adoption of a 'lad' from the St Michael’s Home for Boys for a weekend 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 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 in 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 boarding 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, or 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 paramilitary. This writer has met instructors in the two 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 caregivers 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 YTC. 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, and 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 that 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.