According to a study by the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, only about 16 percent of “persistently poor children” become successful young adults. In a nation like Jamaica, where more than 25 percent of youth live below the poverty line, that means that a significant number of young people may feel that they have no opportunity to move past the generational poverty that they experience daily.
But thanks to the work of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, young people at Riverton Meadows in Kingston, Jamaica, see a way out of poverty and towards a better life.
Sister Gene Poore has been involved with summer programs in Jamaica since 1992. Ten years ago, she started working with youth in Riverton Meadows, a settlement built on and around a landfill in Kingston, as part of the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative. The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative is supported by grants from Common Spirit Health as well as donations from people like you.
“The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative was born out of a collective realization by people serving in west Kingston,” said Sr. Gene. “After many years of working in the area, we came to understand that the issues facing these impoverished neighborhoods were not only complex, but deeply rooted. The resources and expertise that were required to solve these issues seemed greater than one organization could offer.”
“We have learned that the work of genuinely transforming lives not only requires collaboration by people in and out of Kingston, but a vision that provides hope to vulnerable people lacking resources and options,” she continued.
The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative offers a wide range of aid – from healthy mom and baby clinics to summer camps to funding of schoolbooks and supplies. But one of the most transformative aspects of this ministry is the skills training program provided to young people.
With unemployment in the double digits across the island, more than 70% of those unemployed lack remedial academic skills, and 90% lack the professional skills that would make finding employment possible.
For more than a decade, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and the Jamaica Education Fund have been supporting youth in high school, universities, and in law school. They have sponsored 30-35 young people annually to receive the training that will make them employable and offer a way out of poverty.
“Jamaica has a rigorous permit and certification process for workers in most trades – from bookkeeping to security to nursing to cosmetology. These licenses and permits are often too costly for the young people of Riverton Meadows, so we help them pay for the training that they need to start their career,” says Sister Gene. “Many young people just lack the confidence and the family support to try to further their studies. The team on the ground that is funded by the Jamaica Education Fund offers guidance, academic reinforcement, and moral support. All of this has been done with the help of grants and donations from people who support our work.”
Students can choose from more than 20 areas of study to find the career path appropriate to their own interests and talents. Once complete, they can find employment in Jamaica.
The increase in trained medical professionals that has resulted from the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many medical professionals were not available to serve at the Riverton Clinic during the pandemic, students in practical nursing rotated shifts at the clinic when their classes were interrupted by COVID-19.
Their training made them indispensable to the Riverton area during this time of crisis.
The sewing center founded by the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative, which offers employment to Riverton community members, also played a part in protecting the community from COVID, refocusing output from school uniforms and medical slings to much-needed face masks.
We are not offering a band aid, but an avenue for transformation for individuals and the neighborhoods in which they live,” said Sr. Gene. “Education, skills training, and the opportunity for employment are the only ways young people can break the cycle of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. They want to be – they need to be – part of building a stronger, safer, and healthier community.”