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Helping troubled teens in Jamaica

Philip is now challenging himself to succeed
Philip is now challenging himself to succeed

We all know that being a teenager is far from easy. At SOS Children, we have dedicated programmes designed to support young people during this time of transition. One such programme, at SOS Children’s Village Barrett Town, Jamaica, focuses on supporting teenage boys from the Village who are at risk of jeopardising their futures. It also helps prepare them for life at the Youth Home they’ll move into in a couple of years.

From naughty teen to maths wizz

The ten boys on the programme live in a special house within the Village, looked after by SOS staff member, Garfield James. The boys were all refusing to do their chores, rarely did their homework, wouldn’t listen to their mums and, in some cases were becoming increasingly violent when conflicts with other young people arose. Village director Christopher Andrews knew he had to act before it was too late. “The boys are at an age where we can still reach them. They are not youth, they know they are young boys, so we can influence them,” he says confidently.

Philip is one of the boys living in the special house. An athletic 14-year-old, his naughty behaviour was beginning to get him into serious trouble before Garfield intervened. Now he has discovered a love for maths and recently took an exam meant for young people two years older than him. “He sees potential in himself – he’s realising that he is more than able to achieve above and beyond his current level,” explains Garfield. “He is challenging himself to do better.”

Garfield, youth worker CV Barrett Town, Jamaica
Garfield believes that with the right support, the boys can turn their lives around

A dedicated mentor

Having a close mentor is an incredibly important part of the process. Garfield understands exactly what it takes to mentor the boys in his care. He himself grew up in difficult circumstances. One of eight children, his mother died when he was just six years old. His dad was forced to work long hours to feed the family and Garfield lacked the support he needed to flourish.

“I wanted my father to be there. I had so much potential at school, but I didn’t have the support to maximise that,” he says. “That is why I believe it to be my purpose to offer these youngsters what I didn’t have.”

One of Garfield’s approaches has been a ‘house-rules’ board which hangs in the living room. It details who is responsible for the different chores and includes important messages about swearing and behaviour. Crucially, everything on the board was decided upon by the boys themselves, with guidance from Garfield. The boys now have a real incentive to follow the rules and improve their behaviour.

Nuturing potential

Garfield is keen to stress that his approach isn’t all about discipline. “If that was the main purpose of my job, then I would be missing the big picture. I believe that the main focus is developing these boys to realise their potential. Yes, they need help with organising themselves and knowing where the boundaries are, but it’s more than that!”

Boys from the special teens programme, CV Barrett Town, Jamaica
The boys on the programme are succeeding at school and no longer get in trouble

His approach is evidently paying off. Less than six months into the programme, the boys rarely fail to do their chores and are much more settled. “They are more focused now and they are more motivated to do well at school. Everything is falling into place,” says Garfield proudly.

And that is ultimately the point of the ‘teenagers programme’; to encourage teens to take control of their futures, make positive decisions and better themselves. As Garfield explains, “It’s about finding their potential, finding what they’re good at, and helping them develop that potential.”

The boys will continue to live under Garfield's watchful eye until they are ready for the next step - to move into the Youth Home. Find out more about about our SOS Youth Homes and programmes for young people.

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