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Choices well made
The Sangre Grande graduates of the CHOICES Adolescent Mothers Programme invited me to their 25th Anniversary Reunion on June 23 at the CHOICE Centre, Slinger Francisco Boulevard, Phase 4, La Horquetta.
Many years ago, Ms Florence Campbell-Gonzales, a former centre manager, introduced me to CHOICES and I was honoured to be in the company of the former trainees, because of their triumph over the challenges that are associated with teenage mothers.
The evening turned out to be quite an inspiration because of the way each of the young women offered moving testimonies about their life experiences and how they were tutored by their mentors.
I mention their mentors because I have to give them credit for their unheralded work.
Among the mentors present were members of the Child Welfare League (CWL), the NGO which launched and administered CHOICES.
I saw Ms Marjorie Baptiste, director, Ms Merle Gay, president of the CWL, Mrs Joanna Friday-Bartholomew, one of the early founders of CHOICES, Ms Gloria Merritt, programme coordinator, Ms Cheryl Guy, Food Prep tutor/technician, as well as Ms Florence Campbell-Gonzales.
Mrs Joanna Friday-Bartholomew explained that the Bernard van Leer Foundation, which was also involved with funding SERVOL and its Early Childhood Development Programme, approached the Child Welfare League in order to facilitate a programme for the children of adolescent mothers.
The foundation, headquartered in the Netherlands, was started in 1949 and has been involved in “developing and sharing knowledge about what works in early childhood development”.
The first CHOICES centre was launched at Sangre Grande in June 1994. La Horquetta, Laventille and Woodbrook came later. The young mothers received training in academic studies, child care and family life education, computer skills, garment construction, food preparation, catering, art and craft and home decoration.
The teenagers’ children were accommodated at the nurseries in each centre.
At the reunion, each of the mothers, now in their early thirties, credited CHOICES for training them to be competent parents as well as guiding them to lucrative jobs and even to owning their own businesses.
I heard great success stories from each of the graduates, in turn, particularly as they mentioned the growth and development of their children.
I took special note of Ms Keishel Joseph, who gave the Vote of Thanks and whose story was a reprise of her speech given in April at the 100th Anniversary of the Child Welfare League, on behalf of all CHOICES graduates.
Ms Joseph said her story began 20 years ago when she was just 16.
She told the gathering: “I was introduced to CHOICES at the early part of my pregnancy by Ms Baptiste. She was at the health centre at that time and they told her about me and she came and picked me up and took me to CHOICES.
Only to discover that there were other teens even younger than myself, so all the embarrassment and awkward feelings left, because in my mind here was my chance to make things right for myself and my baby.”
She added, “CHOICES offered us young ladies a second choice, a second home, an educational institution where we felt comfortable interacting without discrimination. Though many passed through the programme and got caught up pregnant again because of life challenges.
“At CHOICES we were introduced to spirituality, physical education, intellectual, cultural, emotional and social called Spices of Life not forgetting financial.
“In addition, we were exposed to various types of skill courses that we were able to earn an extra income … In some instances, some of us were able to write School Leaving and CXC exams.
“We had additional sessions about personal development, proper care for our babies and drama where we did short skits on how to handle some of our real-life situations.”
In a country which has lamented the large amount of teenage mothers CHOICES and its successful graduates need to be applauded.
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