Born and raised in Trench Town, I’ve seen that my community, more than anything, needs to be led on a path of peace and love, and it starts with the youths.
Whether it’s my friends or other youth in the community, I try to teach them the beauty of virtuous living. I try to enlighten them about the things they may be participating in, and how their actions impact others.
‘But you don’t behave like one of them,’ is the kind of thing people tell me when they learn I am from here. Truthfully, I’ve seen a lot of things happen around here growing up. There is one dominant style of thinking and of behaving – and sadly it’s negative. This has a butterfly effect on all the other issues in the community.
Positive voice for Trench Town youth
That motivated me from a young age to join an organisation called Youth with A Vision, based in Arnett Gardens. We cater to the youth by developing their social and cognitive skills and help them with job readiness. Youth with A Vision has really helped me to get my voice out in the community.
In the past couple of years I’ve gotten involved with UNICEF partner Fight for Peace, including using my graphic design skills to design their flyers for events and helping to coordinate some of the activities. This started because my organisation and theirs share the community centre together.
From that I volunteered for their Bounce Back sessions, helping children who have been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (Bounce Back is a programme designed and run by Dr. Shetty of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinic).
Volunteering for Fight for Peace
In those sessions there is a real level of intimacy based upon taking a child-friendly approach. For instance, they draw, and based upon what they draw, you get to see a lot of what’s in their life and then you can then talk about it and know how they feel.
One child drew a handcart and eventually it led to him talking about his uncle who pushes that cart, but who is a known gunman, who he has seen with a gun. All of that came from a drawing.
It makes you realise how at risk these children are. One thing leads to another, and you get all these details about their struggles and you are able to talk to them and give them reassurance, and most of all, help.
Ready to risk my life to end violence
Their lives are extremely graphic. Just a couple weeks ago someone died right around the corner from gunshots. It happened in broad daylight when children were casually playing on the road. For children, prolonged experiences like that dulls them to violence and it becomes ‘normal’.
Taking a new approach makes such an impact on children because of the negativity they are so often used to. When all children are surrounded by is bad, often it can just be one positive thing they are looking for to hold onto.
For them, I want to continue to be a voice of change, because that’s what the community needs, despite all the persecution and risks involved. It can cost your life but it’s a step I am willing to take, because I believe and I can see the impact.
Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ‘30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Joel who are using their skills and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.