COVID-19 is an uncomfortable but opportune moment for us to confront serious and longstanding social issues in Jamaica, like violence against women and children. At Araba Scott Children’s Foundation we’ve been adapting our usual programme in St. Thomas, to help those in quarantine until we are able to gather properly again. Between hosting a virtual art competition, making sensory bottles and helping with schoolwork, we are trying our best to ensure our young people can still express themselves and feel connected in this time of great uncertainty.
St. Thomas has long been a neglected parish but as someone who wants better for children, I see this situation as an opportunity to learn from this crisis. When COVID-19 has passed we might be able to see how different sections of society working together during this emergency could do the same to end senseless violence against people in Jamaica – which has been an emergency situation for too long.
Born in the United Kingdom, I have found myself deeply connected to St. Thomas because this was the home of my grandmother, Louise Barnes, who was murdered in Jamaica in 2009. It took seven years for our family to get justice and this really affected me as a young 15 year old.
My family’s adversity inspired me
Four years later, that experience is what motivated me to register our foundation which provides free artistic, educational and cultural enrichment for children aged 0-17 in the parish. Last year, we opened our safe haven, Barnes Hall, which is accessible to children with or without disabilities and is a secure area for children to play, learn, create and relax.
When the lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19, we first began by making sure that the children and families we serve had access to food. By the end of April, we started thinking of ways we could continue to engage children in learning, play and other meaningful activities.
We decided to produce short educational, encouraging and relaxing videos that would be beneficial to our children and their families, as well as setting challenges and daily activities. Our lead volunteer, Kamara, suggested we could share the videos through a Parent and Carer WhatsApp Group. Families without access to a device or service have been visited, and paints and other resources have been delivered to all the children in the group.
Finding new ways to reach children
The group is manned by professional educators, trustees and skilled volunteers, and is proving to be a powerful tool. Children ‘check in’ each morning and ‘check out’ in the evenings, they also tell us how COVID-19 is affecting them and what they need help with.
The feedback on the group has been great. Children in need who we have not worked with before are now on our radar. The children who won the recent competition screamed with excitement, and we are looking to re-create moments like that for all the children, every day.
What is UNICEF doing?
This post is part of a series looking at how COVID-19 is impacting children and families and also people who are addressing their challenges. Post your #COVID19diaries story to social media and tag @unicefjamaica to be featured!
For more information about our response to COVID-19 assisting government and non-governmental organisations to protect the rights of children, and to access resources for parents, visit our webpage dedicated to this emergency: uni.cf/covid19ja.
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) May 12, 2020