CERITA Buchanan has an undying love for people and serving them through her daily duties as a social worker and social work educator.
Born and raised in Montego Bay, St James, Buchanan told All Woman that her career goal was to become an attorney as she enjoyed advocacy. But she explained that eventually she realised that if she wanted to work with people, look at the ills in society, and make an impact, social work was the route.
“I grew up in a household where you understood the importance of people and people development. My mother fostered that in me. She always ensured the people around us were OK and she always looked out for others. From early we learnt that caring for people was important to self-development,” she said.
Subsequently, when Buchanan left Montego Bay High School for Girls, she enrolled in the bachelor of science in social work programme at The University of West Indies (UWI), which marked the beginning of a lifelong journey.
“On completion in 2004 I went to work with the University Hospital of the West Indies and that is where I saw a lot of pain, a lot of ills in society, especially doing home visits. That’s where the work I do now started. I saw poverty in a way like never before and it became really real. I never knew people in Jamaica lived like that. I realised that the vulnerabilities in families and young people would be where I needed to work, especially with girls, as the research shows that in developing young girls you will see greater social and economic development in society,” she said.
And so, a few years later, Buchanan completed a master’s degree in clinical social work, which she used to mentor girls in a more holistic way.
Now the head of the Social Welfare Training Centre at the Consortium for Social Development and Research, The UWI Open Campus, Buchanan has conceptualised the R.E.A.L M.E project to be launched in September with a focus on educating and empowering young women through the elements of holistic wellness.
Approximately 40 students ages 13 to 18 years from two schools will explore the vital psychosocial skills and competencies for various aspects of health specific to being the “R.E.A.L M.E.”
“This is Relational/social gender attitudes, interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence; Emotional needs such as self-identity and managing emotions; Attitude with regards to outlook on life, respect for self or others; Lifestyle issues as it relates to nutrition, exercise, stress management; Mental health awareness, reduction of stigma, suicide prevention; and Economic/Education empowerment, a type of wellness that prepares you for employment and/or entrepreneurship.”
The programme will also inclusively equip young men to play their role in ensuring empowerment for all and provide young women with knowledge, life practices and behaviours that promote healthy attitudes towards themselves and others.
It is also designed to include mentorship, interactive guided discussions, and activities utilising the elements of holistic wellness which will enable these young women to thoroughly explore aspects of health and their identity. The programme applies a multidimensional view of health and includes the physical, social, and psycho-emotional well-being of the individual.
In addition, the participants will engage in bi-monthly after school sessions with key facilitators and mentors at the Social Welfare Training Centre, Open Campus. At the end of the programme students will be required to identify, plan and implement a community service activity to foster civic participation throughout their schools and community. The closing ceremony of the programme will serve to validate and recognise their growth and role as official R.E.A.L M.E ambassadors.
“I want young girls to understand that especially when you’re living in poverty and you have adverse situations and vulnerabilities, that education is the key, and through these different areas I want them to identify a sense of self and how they can tap into this. I grew up in a working-class family. In our community we were role models but around me there were young girls who never saw their own potential. But the attitude is you can do it too. I am standing on the shoulders of giants. For me it was about bringing somebody else along,” she said.
Buchanan, who also has a number of awards to include the Jamaica Association of Social Workers Award, the Council for Voluntary Social Services Award, and awards for teaching at The UWI, also loves travelling, yoga and nature.
For her, living a positive life is paramount as positivity changes everything and allows you to be grateful for the small things and the magical moments in life.