Jamaican club prepares ostracized young men for adulthood.
By Cindy Dashnaw
In a state-supported home called Matthew 25:40 in Jamaica, 19 boys and young men infected with HIV as infants live sequestered from a society that shuns them. The stigma of HIV is so intense in their communities that the mothers who passed the virus to these children at birth or through breastfeeding abandoned them to avoid the shame.
Two years ago, Dwayne Cargill, then first-vice president of the Kiwanis Club of North St. Andrew, learned about the home’s residents and made a decision: As president, he’d lead a club effort to change their lives.
“These young men don’t have anywhere to go after they leave the home. They were going out on the streets. That’s not what we want for them,” Cargill says.
The residents, ages 15 to 25, were angry at life and unable to trust volunteers who visited only a few times.
“No one in their lives has stayed,” Cargill says. “This gave us the resolve to help them become productive citizens. We thought that with the skill sets within our club, we’d be able to make an impact.”
Past President Mark Russell formalized a Mentorship and Skills Development program.
“I was 15. I know what it was like to distrust someone who comes to you with a story,” Russell said in an interview with “CVM TV at Sunrise.” “Part of our intervention involves rap sessions. Before we can help, we have to show them that people recognize them as human beings.”
Fifty-one club members have participated in field trips, football games and guest speaker presentations, as well as training sessions in relationships, job interviews and more.
“They recognize us now and see that we’re not like any other club,” Russell says, “so the trust element is slowly gaining momentum.”
At a recent club-hosted talent show, some of the young men performed their own original songs. It’s the kind of behavior that tells Cargill the club is having a positive impact.
“Since we’ve been there, the response has changed significantly,” he says. “When they started saying, ‘We’ll see you on Monday, right?’ we knew we were engaging them.”
Encouraged by the results, the club’s leaders have committed to continuing the program.
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.