In a continuation of the initial launch by the Honorable Minister Olivia Grange, the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) in partnership with AHF (Aids Healthcare Foundation) hosted the A-STREAM Programme Awards Ceremony at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. The ceremony was to celebrate and award 40 adolescents parents with bursaries which will cover school expenses such as uniforms, fees, books, lunch, transportation etc..
AHF has matched the contribution made by the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport with approximately $3.4-million towards the A-Stream Program. With this significant and effective partnership, scholarships have been generated to assist young parents return to school, up to the tertiary level. University recipients (4) received $140,000 each, while those in secondary school (40) received $40,000 each.
On an auspicious day like this one, the room was filled with triumphant stories about young parents who, against odds, persevered to become successful adults in careers and parenting. One such story came from Sashell Hall, a graduate of the programme at the Centre. She shared her story of the work it took to overcome the stigma of becoming pregnant at a young age. From Duhaney Park, her determination to succeed coupled with the assistance from WCJF, Sashell graduated high school as the valedictorian. She has also completed her law degree and is the only female that sits on a leadership team which advocates for equal access to legal representation in the region.
There was also thunderous applause for the sole adolescent father in the room who ‘showed up’ to indicate that he is showing up for the life of his daughter. Accompanying the young father was his father who sat proudly beside him. The young man was also awarded a special scholarship by AHF to assist him with his responsibilities.
The continuous sentiment of the event was, ‘mistakes will be made, but know, you will never be turned away’.
The AHF has expanded its outreach efforts throughout the world with over 1 million customers being served with HIV support in 40 countries. In Jamaica, the expansion is different, as the once ‘Girls Act’ now incorporates boys through the new ‘Youth Act’. They have done this to target the marginalized population of boys who have dropped out of school. Through this, AHF has made an effort to support adolescent fathers who step up to the new life challenge.
The Honorable Minister Grange was the keynote speaker for the event and shared many uplifting thoughts. One of the most powerful statements that the Minister made was not a part of her planned speech. It came in the form of an acknowledgement of the director of Gender Affairs and the fact that she, Mrs. Sharon Coburn Robinson, is also a graduate of the WCJF. That statement epitomized the great potential sitting in the room.
There are now 10 main centres across the island which assist young mothers or mothers to be with their journey back to school and beyond. Added to the 10 main centres, there are 8 outreach stations bringing needed help to teenage mothers across the island. Minister Grange commanded the room of uniform clad youngsters to “Stand and be proud of who you are, the fact that you are here today. We are very proud of you. [This is an indication] that you have embraced the second chance that you have been afforded to complete your secondary education. There is… an abundance of life after an early pregnancy.”
In the 40 years of its existence, the WCJF has helped over 47,000 young ladies. With each lady having at least one baby, the number of people directly impacted by the WCJF should be doubled to 94,000. This is an amazing showing of how the Jamaican governments have worked hard in supporting this once marginalized sect of our nation family.