Monday, November 12, 2007

Innocence Lost

GLEANER EDITORS' FORUM - Terror's young captives - Students relive pain, bloodshed, but vow to succeed
published: Monday | November 12, 2007

Children from primary schools across Kingston's inner-city communities participatein a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday. The forum was held under the theme 'Hopes and Aspirations for the Future'. - Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer

Tears flowed freely at the most recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, held last Wednesday, which focused on the challenges being faced by primary school children in several inner-city communities in Kingston.

Today, Earl Moxam, coordinator of the Editors' Forum series, presents highlights from that session, held at the newspaper's main office at North Street in Kingston.


Her eyes are bright. They glitter with confidence and promise. She says she wants to be a doctor, or a lawyer, perhaps. She could be either, or both, maybe.

But, alas, evil lurks nearby, determined that such promise should not bear fruit. Such is the stuff of which Brittany's world is made.

The grade-six student enjoys socialising, reading and singing. Sounds like the kinds of pursuits that the average 11-year-old would enjoy without having to worry about anything.

Not so for Brittany. She carries the daily burden of life, and death, in her community on her young shoulders. She is afraid to walk the streets and her parents keep her close to their side lest she fall prey to marauding thugs.

"I'm actually afraid, because recently they killed seven people, including a 10-year-old boy, a two-month-old baby and an old lady," she recalls.

At the recounting of such horrors, her eyes lost their twinkle momentarily, as sadness eclipsed the initial joy.

Rebounding with optimism

Shortly thereafter, however, Brittany was soaring again.

"You can't let things let you down. You have to know what you want in life, and if you know what you want in life, you can do it. In my vocabulary, there is no such word as 'can't', so I choose to rise to the occasion and do what I want to do," she asserts with the wisdom of a sage.

But as she looks around at her peers, Brittany is particularly concerned about the boys, many of whom are dropping out of school and joining gangs. For that she blames poor parenting, particularly the absence of enough good fathers.

"The fathers are basically the same as the children. Most of them sit on the corners; they drink, they gamble. I think (the community) needs a lot of fathers. Not biological fathers, but a lot of father treatment."

This bright-eyed young girl takes great comfort and solace from her Christian parents and her church. "If you have a problem, you can go to your pastor or another member and discuss it with them," she advised.

But she is wise enough to issue a cautionary note: "You still have to be careful which church member you speak to, though, because even in the church there is hypocrisy!"


Roje is a grade-five student. By his own estimation, he is "very good" in language arts. He wants to become a veterinarian.

"I have very good parents who help me with my home-work," he reports proudly.

Despite those positive factors, however, he too is very scared; so scared he was only able to nod his head in acknowledgement.

"What makes you most scared?" he was asked. "The gunmen," Roje answered almost at a whisper and with a shiver. Then he began to sob.

Time to move on to another child ... another story of innocence lost.


Tashana has visions of becoming a successful businesswoman. Life at home is fine. It is when she goes on the road that terror grips her young heart.

This is particularly bad for a student who wants to do well in school, but who must risk being caught in the crossfire of rival gangs on her way to classes.

Her memories of the last general election are not of the song-and-dance routines at the party rallies, but of the blood that flowed down the streets of her community as political thugs struggled for supremacy.

Two months later, the shootings continue, leaving Tashana too scared to venture out some mornings.

To compound her concerns, this is the year that this young girl must sit GSAT - the examination that will determine which high school she moves on to. A day away from school, therefore, means a crucial loss for her.

"I'm afraid that if I don't go to school one day, something will be taught that will come in the GSAT, so I try not to miss any day, but I'm very scared," she said, her voice breaking at the end.

Still, she braves the fears because she wants to gain a place at Wolmer's or Campion, her favourites.


Jerome has dreams of being a broadcast meteorologist.

He is not fully satisfied with his academic performance to date, but is determined to improve. He takes pleasure, in the meantime, in being "a little bit ahead" of the girls in his class.

He wants the other boys in the school and community to follow his example, but he is worried about some of them.

"I see some of them going around with some men that they shouldn't even walk with, because they will get them into a lot of trouble," he laments.


Amy (not her real name) is dreadfully afraid, particularly at night, while lying in bed. Even there she does not feel safe from the gunmen who often come charging into and through her yard.

What is worse, sometimes they even knock at the doors of her house where she cowers alone while her parents are out.

So, she is pleading for parents to stay closer to their children, to remain at home with them and give them comfort and solace in the dead of the night while evil stalks and hunts new prey.

Despite such terrors, Amy, a brilliant student, has ambitions of becoming a paediatrician, or a teacher, someday. In the meantime, she has her sights firmly set on a place at Campion when she completes primary school next year.


At age 11, Devon should be exploring and enjoying life to the fullest. However, much of the delight in his young life has been doused by a sorrow too deep for a child to bear.

In June this year, his beloved grandfather was killed while on his way to work.

While recounting the painful experience, young Devon cannot hold back the flood of tears.

Still, he must go on.

"Some of my good experiences are when I get a hundred or in the nineties or eighties in my grades at school. I feel very good about myself when that happens."

He revels in the company of his parents and he craves for peaceful interaction with his peers.


Jovante is enjoying a 90 average in his schoolwork. He wants to become a medical doctor.

He is critical of his fellow male students, pointing out that the girls are generally doing better in school "because they are more determined".

Furthermore, he says, too many males "are not interested in doing well in school or anywhere else."

That, he fears, will result in more criminals being produced in his community.


Nancy (not her real name), a grade-six student, wants to become a nurse or a journalist.

Perhaps it is the budding journalist in her that is already breaking free, for she is able to give vivid descriptions of life in her community. It is not a pretty picture.

This child of 11 describes her community as being in a state of war. It is a war in which she and other children feel they are among the primary victims, if not physically, then certainly psychologically.

"I get scared because at times the men come into my house from the front and from the back to hide from the police," she explains.

Nancy is also haunted by the memory of feeling forced to lie to the police. It was during a raid on the community by a police team that the lawmen barged into her yard and showed her a photograph of one of the men they were pursuing.

Did she know this man? Had she seen him today? Where was he hiding?

The correct answer to question number one would have been 'yes'. Likewise, for question number two. Question number three was the most difficult to answer, because only metres away, up in a tree, the gunman was perched, the business end of a deadly gun aimed directly at her forehead.

No, she did not know the man. No, she had not seen him today. And, certainly, she did not know where he was.

The instinct of survival prevailed over honesty.


Harlem Mama said...

There are no words to say. Thank you for posting this.

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