Today’s visit was to the Annie Dawson’s Children Home, which is a group home for young girls between the ages of 5-18. It was founded 6 years ago by Ms Ivilie Nickie, and named after her parents. She explained to us that her parents inspired her to establish the Home because she grew up in a household of children that her parents took in. She said that made her passionate about working with vulnerable children and she noted that It has always been her dream was to offer a home for children. She shared one of her mother's quotes that guides her work with her girls:
“If you never learn how to love another person's child, you will not know what love is”.
We had the chance to learn about the different documentations and funding for the Home. Annie Dawson Home is one of 40 private residential care facilities for children in Jamaica. It is overseen by Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), which is a government agency that aims to protect and transform Jamaican children lives and strengthen families. Ms Nickie used her money from retirement to establish and maintain the house. She also receives funding and support from the government and private entities for the girl’s education, health care, food, and other daily needs. She has a series of logs that she keeps for government records which includes visitor logs, daily logs, injury logs, medical logs, critical incident logs, and police logs. When we entered the house for a tour, we were immediately greeted by the girls with attention and affection. They were eager to get to know us and engage with them. For confidentiality purposes and to protect the girls from any harm or vulnerabilities we were not allowed to take pictures of or with them.
There are approximately 22 girls in the Home. The house consists of multiple rooms with multiple bunk beds for the children. There are also separate rooms for staff, washrooms to share, multiple purpose room where they can wash their clothes, watch T.V., play games, and a clothing room that holds all the girls’ clothing. There is a play ground in the backyard that has a swing set, a slide, a jungle gym, patio sets, and other areas for the girls to play.
We had the opportunity to interact with the girls in different ways. The girls had many talents and interests including braiding hair, sports, writing, reading, and card games. Most of the girls have been braiding hair since age 7 which we thought was an amazing skill because it shows self sufficiency and independence. We connected with the girls as they braided our hair, played card games, colour, read, draw, and had “girl talk”. From these activities we saw relationships forming among ourselves and the girls.
Some of the girls gave us a quick tour of the fruit trees that are in the back yard. They have mangoes, breadfruit, soursop, June plum, Jamaican apples, and star fruit trees. The girl picked starfruit and gave us to try. It had a unique mixture of a texture of a pepper and taste of a green apple.
The girls also taught us some new games, One of the games that the girls showed us was a game that is similar to dodge ball called “Dandy-Shandy”. The game requires a group of people to stand in the middle while the two people on the either sides of the field aim and hit the ball at the group in the middle. We also did homework with the girls. The girls had so much energy, the boys could barely keep up.
Our thoughts about the day were very profound. It was easier to connect on a deeper level with the girls today because it was a smaller group of children and youth. We also found today was a test for our social and emotional boundaries in relation to interacting with the children and youth. Since we built a strong rapport with them, it was bitter sweet on both ends when it was time to part ways. Although our time was short with them, the experience will impact our work in the future for a lifetime. We believe that more young practitioners like us should engage in experiences like this to help children/youth create a strong foundation for individual growth.
Our day and final trip activity ended with an interesting twist. Our bus had mechanical failure and broke down at the side of the road in the rain. This tested our patience and resilience. Although rain and the bus threatened to dampened our day, we all decided that it is important to remember that after every storm, comes a rainbow. In this case the memories of engaging with the girls earlier in the day and the learning experiences of the entire trip is our rainbow.
Written by Leah and Stephanie