SPANNER BANNER GOES ONSeptember 7, 2012
Marcia Griffiths A crucial influenceSeptember 11, 2012
by Fiona Small
After observing the large number of young children not attending school in Trench Town, Kingston due to violence and/or financial hardships, Lorna Stanley and Pastor Bobby Wilmot founded the Joy Town Learning Centre in 1994. ‘Queen of Trench Town’ Lorna Stanley now proudly celebrates the 18th Anniversary of her school which has become Operation Restoration Christian School; aiming to educate, nurture, mobilise and empower inner-city youth of low social and economic status.
Hello Lorna, I want to start by thanking you for this interview. Please tell our readers what your school is all about.
Thank you for this opportunity. Interviews like this are so important as I would like others to understand what I am doing in Jamaica so I can inspire and hopefully encourage others to reach over here to do something similar. The name of the school is Operation Restoration Christian School. We focus on literacy and numeracy for children between 12 and 17, we currently have 58 boys and 14 girls. It is very challenging because the school is located in an area that is very deprived.
The school is helping to make a difference not only to students but to adults as well. All of the staff members come from Trench Town. About 95% of them had not completed high school but through our programme they’ve qualified to become trained teachers. Their lives have been dramatically transformed and now they are of course very positive role models in the community. I believe in reaching out to people and showing them love to make a difference.
How long has your school been up and running?
It will be 18 years in September and we first started off as a kindergarten school. The day we opened the school literally started off with a bang because a war broke out between two communities and children could not cross the so called borders to go into their regular schools. They ended up flooding into our school and we were forced to take these other students in and so we started to accommodate them as well.
What are the daily challenges you are facing?
One of the challenges that we face is the stigma that is attached to the school. You hardly find outsiders, people from the wider communities, wanting to come in and volunteer. As we are an independent school we don’t qualify for assistance from the government. That’s why we need the help of volunteers.
The political situation in Jamaica is not so bad nowadays but when I started you would not accept assistance from any ruling party because when the other one would come into power they would kick out whatever programmes their predecessors had put in place.
When you Google your name it comes up as ‘The Queen of Trench Town’…
Oh really? [she laughs] I better Google it! Ironically I was duped the Queen of Trench Town by a very prominent talk show host in Jamaica. He is now the Minister of Education. The irony is that he gave me that title in recognition of what I am doing in Trench Town and now we don’t hear anything from him.
You’ve been in the UK for almost a month. In relation to youth culture, what you have identified that is mirrored in Jamaica?
The big problem that I have seen are the behavioral problems. Yes in my school we also have some students who fall into the category of extreme misconduct. The reasons are the same: dis-functional families, the feeling of rejection, the need to belong. That’s why they joined gangs. It’s identical, we have those exact same problems.
It all goes right to the source: what happens in the home. In London one of the principals told me that there were three girls attending the same school, in the same class, fathered by the same man with different mothers. Can you believe that?
Would you agree that the behaviour that we are seeing in the UK is because of British youth copying the ‘yardies’ that have come over?
I think it is over emphasised because a lot of people who call themselves yardies are not from Jamaica, they just have a Jamaican sounding accent. When I grew up in Jamaica it was known for its warmth and hospitality, then you started hearing it become infamous for its hostility, and then you started hearing about the Shower Possie and the yardies and all this stuff you know. We never had that!
You come from the corporate world and changed your career to build the school. What was going on?
My background is primarily in journalism. In New York I was a researcher for the NBC, I had my own PR business and then I started doing legal work, I did a lot of things. I have now found my passion. I always cared about people, I always wanted to make things better for somebody else.
How can people support you?
Our website is: www.operation-restoration.org It costs £20 a month to sponsor a child as the only means they have is from us. We also plan to expand the school to accommodate more students. So any kind of help we get is greatly appreciated.