The youth of Bon Air Gardens, undaunted by the limitations of covid19, are already planning for life after the pandemic for themselves and for their community.
In celebration of International Youth Day on August 12, the young men and women of the Bon Air Police Youth Club came together to launch their agricultural programme which they are hoping will benefit the entire community and teach other children in the area about the financial and economic benefits of agriculture.
The club’s agriculture programme was created under the strict supervision of police officers who ensured the community’s children adhered to covid19 protocols. Rotating five participants at a time, the project took two weeks to complete, and the children were able to plant several crops, including celery, chive, lettuce, pigeon peas, and sorrel.
They are also hoping to add scorpion peppers which they will market and sell.
Bon Air resident and team leader on the project, 15-year-old Jahmali Samuel, said the income earned from the sale of the produce will be used to improve the youth club and teach participants how to save money and sell products.
The club will also teach participants how to cook the food grown and develop healthy, organic eating habits.
“The youth has strayed from agriculture,” said Samuel. “They believe it is a poor person thing and we are hoping to correct them in the future.”
Club leader Sonia Robinson, in a phone interview with Newsday on August 14, said it had been in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since the beginning of 2020 and was giving five grow boxes as part of the UNDP's Grow box project.
Grow box kits were given to each Police Youth Club throughout the country to grow their own food as well as a $1,500 voucher to purchase materials.
Because of restrictions on movement due to covid19 regulations, however, the project came to a halt.
She said as the children were on vacation, the club used the opportunity to get the programme started in time to launch for International Youth Day.
“We figured it would be a good day to launch as the theme for this year was transforming food systems: youth innovation for human and planetary help.”
She said the idea came about as a casual conversation with a few club members, and within a short space of time, the team agreed on the project and mobilised to get the garden started using the resources they had.
“The project was a way to earn funds for the youth club,” said Prince Du Bois, another team leader on the project. “When times are hard, we can use this to generate funds for the club and to fund our needs as well. That was one of the main objectives of the club.”
Transforming the community
Robinson said she founded the club in 2017 after spending some time as a netball coach for the Tamana Police Youth Club. “I felt like I had the capability to do more and reach youth and I thought I should start a police youth club. I thought of the crime rate in the Windy Hill area and wondered if they would welcome a youth club.”
She said she engaged the chairman of the corporation and the village council about the idea and they welcomed the initiative.
“It was a learning process, like any other organisation,” she said, but in 2018, with the assistance of community police and neighbouring stations, she was able to mobilise the community, visiting homes to recruit young people aged eight-29 to participate in the club’s first camp.
“We started going to villages. We walked through Windy Hill (with police) because of the stigma as a crime area. We tried recruiting neighbours and let me tell you, we had 135 children that year. It was remarkable.”
She said the camp engaged the children in education and sport-based activities.
She continued to engage other organisations to establish themselves in other communities.
Robinson said, however, despite the initial success of the club, there were some setbacks. The club shares a space in the community park with three other community organisations.
“Due to limited accommodations, the youth club slowed down in 2019, because of the condition of the building.
“Because it’s a shared space, we cannot use the space as we want…so we try to focus on outdoor activities, which I think really targets the youths in the community. Most children gravitate towards sports."
Agriculture vs crime
Samuel said another aim of the youth club is to provide a feeling of nationalism in the youth of the area, preparing them for the responsibilities of adulthood.
“We feel like part of a family. We feel determined and motivated. The team leaders are great at providing moral support and always teach us to do better. If they see us doing something wrong, they are there to correct us.”
He said, in 2017 the area was called a local hotspot.
“Many children grow distant from agriculture so we knew by giving them a sense of nationalism, it will help. In gangs, they feel a sense of nationalism, like a family. We believe we can have a family here by doing positive things and by bringing them out and into agriculture.”
Du Bois said when he first joined the club in 2017, he thought it would be for younger children, and not something he would enjoy. He said, however, he was surprised at how much fun he had, especially with the outdoor activities. “There were tough times, but we learned about discipline and knowing right from wrong.”
He said the club is a way to engage the youth. “Come outside and learn something productive. It is always positive.”
Although the pandemic has restricted their movement, the club has been engaging participants via virtual activities, including baking, and learning about animation and technology.