In some areas of Jamaica, gang violence poses a real threat to the safety and stability of families. But the Holy Family Self Help Centre is reaching out to help end the cycle of violence. Names have been changed to protect the identities of the people featured.
The stillness of the warm tropical night is interrupted by several loud noises, waking the residents of Mount Salem in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Paul, Tanice and their three young children are gripped by fear and the children start to cry. Paul jumps out of bed and runs to the door, despite Tanice begging him to hide under the bed with the family. This is what they always do when they hear gun shots.
But something seems different to Paul this time. He can smell smoke, and sees a bright light outside. Desperate to protect his young family, Paul opens the door to discover a raging fire metres away from their home. He returns back inside, grabbing his son and daughter while yelling at Tanice to take his youngest child and run. Safely outside and gasping for breath, they turn to see their home being engulfed by flames.
A Violent place to live
Vicious gang crimes, shootings, kidnappings and violent murders happen frequently in their ‘ghetto’ neighbourhood. This firebombing – an act of retaliation towards one of their neighbours – compounds the fear Paul and Tanice have for their young children’s lives.
I’m scared. It is dangerous because you know you have kids and a gunshot can catch them… Sometimes you have guys who want to target your girls… I do not want my little boy to grow up to be a gun man either. I wish I could leave for the sake of my children. Day by day, this place is getting more and more dangerous.
Despite desperately wanting to leave the dangerous ghetto areas, many families in these communities are simply ‘trapped’ here. They haven’t had access to education and so have limited employment opportunities.
An alternative way through Christ
The Catholic Church is playing a role in changing this reality. It’s providing real opportunities for the young people of Jamaica to seek an alternative future away from these ghettos, through the power of education and the spirit of Christ.
Tanice received vocational training and job search assistance from the Holy Family Self Help Centre, run by Fijian Sister Teresia and her fellow Marist Missionary Sisters. She has now found stable paid employment.
The Holy Family Self Help Centre runs vocational skills training programs in cooking, hospitality, sewing, literacy, computers and housekeeping for people seeking a better future for themselves and their families. Once they graduate, the majority of Sister Teresia’s students find employment in the rapidly growing Jamaican tourism industry, helping them earn an income and have choices about their future – often for the first time in their lives.
As Sister Teresia explains:
We’re equipping and empowering people to go out and earn a better income, but also to feel their self worth, that they can do something. For so many of them, they have never really had a full education.
Living and working in Mount Salem, Sister Teresia knows the community and their challenges well. She has actually known Paul since he was a small child as his family were living in the ghetto next to the Holy Family Self Help Centre.
‘Without the help of the Sisters I’d be dead’
Paul says that unlike many of his childhood friends, he is without a doubt still alive today and living an honest life because of the support he received from the Sisters growing up. ‘Without the help of the Sisters I’d be dead’, says Paul.
God has been good, Sister has been good to us too… If you are ever in trouble you can go to the Sisters and they won’t turn you away. They are a strong influence around here.’
Tanice adds, ‘The Sisters have taught us all to keep our family together. I feel like a prisoner here. But I get my strength from God because without him, I would be nothing.
Unfortunately, the Sisters are not immune from the dangers in Mount Salem. Not long ago, a teenage boy tried to stab Sister Teresia to prove his worthiness to a gang. But Sister Teresia gains strength from her faith in Jesus and lives out her calling to help these young people turn away from violence and crime, and to seek a new future.
She shares, ‘my strength is very much in my community and by my prayer in the chapel, personal prayer and community prayer, and then being with the Sisters.’
Help break the cycle of violence
Sister Teresia is desperate to break the vicious cycle of violence in Jamaica by offering non-violence education classes to the children, teaching them how to handle their emotions and turn away from violence, crime and destructive behaviour.
Through Missio internationally, the Catholic Church and dedicated missionaries like Sister Teresia will continue to reach out and offer life-saving spiritual and practical support to those in desperate need.
It’s through your donations that Missio can reach people like Paul and Tanice, and support them as they build a better future for their families. Please consider a donation today to support this vital work.