“We try to work with these young people, talk with them, show them kindness, give them support. We have a counselor on site. We do home visits. We have parenting sessions. They learn various skills – woodwork, hospitality, arts and crafts, steelpan, English, Math, a foreign language. If a child wants to do something like auto-mechanics, we source that for them. We try to meet them where they are as much as we can. And it’s working. We see children come in with certain attitudes and at the end of a year they just blossom. Some children get back into secondary school, or enter the Community College. Others get employment, because we have a job attachment programme that all the students do at the end of the year.”
SOCIAL CENTRE BUILDING UPGRADE
Norma Cyrille, the Director of the Social Centre, is standing at the door of a classroom full of teenagers. She calls each one by name, teases some of them about being shy in front of strangers. They laugh and hide their faces. Since 1950, the Social Centre has been meeting the needs of families and children with limited financial means. They support a network of ten pre-schools island-wide. But the main Centre in Roseau offers education, training and nurturing to children of all ages. Along with the Model Pre-School, there is a quiet day-care for babies. And in another part of the Centre, young people participate in programmes designed to get them back on track.
The Adolescent Skills Training Programme (ASTP) began in 1986. Over the years it evolved into a programme for young men and women who had to leave school for behavioural or financial reasons. There are also several Haitian children whose parents came to Dominica in search of better opportunities. “Since the earthquake,” Ms. Cyrille says gently, “we have more students from Haiti.”
Another programme at the Centre, From Offending to Achieving (FOTA), is an alternative to going to prison. “It gives young people caught breaking the law a second-chance at life, among people who really care about them. David came into Adolescent Skills Training as a little 15-year-old, chubby boy from Pointe Michel. He liked cooking, so he was in the hospitality class. Everyday he brought food to sell to the staff! After he finished the programme, he assisted us with FOTA. And trust me, he’s very good at it, because he loves the kids. They go out on job attachments. Anything he can do for them he does it.
My dream is to find a way to get the staff better salaries. Because, like David, they are committed, they work hard. We also want to make the building even more useful and attractive to people who use the Centre. Thanks to CDB, BNTF and the Government of Dominica, for doing this massive upgrading for us.”