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USAID Program Provides Opportunities For Jamaican Youth

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When the World Bank holds its Commonwealth Secretariat Regional Caribbean Conference on “Keeping Boys Out of Risk” this year, it will showcase some of the best programs to help young men live productive lives and stay on the right side of the law. Among those programs is one run by USAID and a local NGO.

It started in 2005 when USAID’s office in Jamaica participated in the Education for All (EFA) Youth Challenge grant program. EFA is a worldwide effort spearheaded by the United Nations to provide basic education for all children and adults by 2015.

The program in Jamaica targeted 50 young men from the formerly violence prone Grants Pen community in Kingston, who were among the thousands of the country’s unemployed and out-of-school youth. The aim: to create opportunities for a better life by addressing the educational and employment challenges of urban boys.

Participants ages 15 to 24 were encouraged to take on more positive roles in their community. The program taught literacy, math, business development, skills training, and personal development. Lessons also covered music, conflict resolution, communication and presentation skills, deportment, and aquatic skills.

People’s Action for Community Transformation (PACT), a local NGO and USAID partner, in association with the Boston-based Education Development Center, implemented the program.

Participants Ramone Jeffrey, Damion Stewart, and Andre Fairclough are still part of a network that, four years later, meets weekly in person or by telephone.

Jeffrey, now 22, said he recalled “seeing so many young men stand together at the graduation ceremony in 2007, many of whom were probably doing nothing and getting into trouble— former gang members—all standing together because they wanted to elevate themselves.”

Fairclough said simply: “This program was God-sent.” He found out about it when he helped another potential participant complete the application form.

Lorna Peddie of PACT said that by the end of the project, the young people had changed their outlook and increased their selfesteem. “Other than their training, the project brought them an understanding of their rights as citizens,” she said, adding that “they learned about their heritage and got the chance to interact with positive male mentors.”

Jeffrey, Stewart, and Fairclough have started a recording label and spend time with producers, studio engineers, and other professionals learning about the industry.

While pursuing a certification in electrical installation, Jeffrey writes songs and is an aspiring recording artist. Stewart, 23, juggles plumbing with learning video editing and production. Fairclough is studying events and entertainment management, honing his keyboard skills and developing artist management expertise in Project Artist—an initiative sponsored by a major corporation.

They have also developed a business plan for a recording studio, which will be housed in the Grants Pen community. They say having the studio in their community will be their chance to help other young people.

“We can then teach them what we have learned about music, how to use their voices better, and how to work with video cameras,” says Jeffrey.

The project participants have dubbed themselves “Youth for Change” and while they meet on their own, members of the PACT team have continued to mentor them after the project’s end.

Grants Pen is also one of the 38 communities where USAID is working to increase citizen participation in security through public education and youth engagement.

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