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It was the summer before Rhyim Roach’s final year of primary school. What was supposed to be Rhyim’s last long vacation holiday, including a country trip to go fishing with his father before the stressful GSAT exams, suddenly became anything but peaceful.
A thoughtful boy, the shooting death of his father is ever-present in his voice and demeanour. Sparing with his words, Rhyim is also unsparingly honest about how violence has impacted his schooling: a loss of focus and getting into fights when easily provoked.
“Some night times when I’m watching TV, I hear gunshots … Sometimes when I’m in class doing work, sometimes I feel like shots are firing in my yard (home),” says Rhyim.
Father’s shooting haunts his dreams
He has a recurring dream where he and his father are walking together. But then Rhyim’s father stops to enter a shop and at this point some men follow him inside. Then they shoot him dead; his son powerless to prevent it.
Many other children will have entered the 2018-19 academic year unprepared to focus on their school work due to stress caused by violence. Almost 8/10 Jamaican children experience or witness violence in their home or their community. The same proportion of children ages 2-14 experience some form of violent discipline.
Violence also follows children at school. Responding to a U-Report Jamaica poll last year, 74 per cent of U-Reporters said they had worried about violence in or around their school. Fifty four per cent of U-Reporters identified intruders onto the school compound as the persons they most feared.
Children learning in climate of fear
Within this cycle of violence, children become perpetrators as well as victims.
“That’s what I found on the library internet search history,” says Christopher Wright, Principal of Holy Family Primary, the school that Rhyim attended. “Why are they looking for that? Because they’re somewhere in the dark, with a gun (to use), and need to get away.”
UNICEF partner intervening at his school
UNICEF partner Fight for Peace works closely with Holy Family, supporting guidance counsellors to help children cope, as well as extra-curricular sporting activities. Their approach includes psychological first-aid, equipping youths with the skills to step away from potentially volatile situations.
UNICEF is committed to helping to make Jamaica’s schools safer places for children to learn, including with the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework. We are part of UNICEF’s global #ENDviolence initiative, which is now focused on reducing violence in and around schools. Jamaica is a Pathfinder country in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, and is due to launch its plan of action later this month.
As for Rhyim, a happier chapter in his story began with news that he had successfully transferred to the school of his choice, Donald Quarrie High, named after the famous Olympian. He may never win a gold medal, but for now his education is back on track.