A beautiful picture of a contented, innocent child with the reassuring caption “Each of us matters to God” are some of the images impacting on children of the Hope Centre as they walk along the corridor into the living room. A warm homely atmosphere greets them as they return home from school.
For this is home to them, a family of brothers and sisters, their caregivers and the supervisor. Warm curtains, lace tablecloth, a satin finished varnished wooden floor, a bowl of fruits on the kitchen table, all contribute to that sense of warm welcome to these boys and girls from ages four to 11.
Children’s laundry of varying sizes hang on lines, a parked van in the driveway, a field area with a pavilion, swings and playing equipment, fluffy teddy bears and a healthy array of fun reading books, depict a sense of activity, of playfulness and of a healthy lifestyle. This family of the Hope Centre in San Fernando is the family of the community.
So how did it all begin? The first child entered this Hope Centre on April 30, 1992. But this is not really where it began. It was the materialisation of the vision of some members of the Soroptimist and Rotaract Clubs of San Fernando back in 1986, who established a call-in counselling station for drug users and affected families.
Hope Centre was the name given. When the need for this diminished, a greater need was recognised—that for a children’s home in the South. With the group expanding, the search for a suitable building began and eventually the Carvalho building on Pointe-a-Pierre Road, dilapidated and vandalised, was made available.
A transformation began and under the dedicated and capable leadership of Mrs Angela Watkins together with a group of committed ladies the project started. It was a monumental task with hard work, perseverance, much fund-raising and the generosity of the community, their vision came to fruition. Hope Centre, the children’s home opened its doors on April 30, 1992, and the first child was admitted. Its mission is to provide a temporary home for children in need of an environment that would provide love, healing and happiness to the lives of these children, who in some instances had suffered some loss or even had a traumatic event.
A physical accommodation with that sustained promise is the Hope Centre of San Fernando. For 20 years almost 300 of our nation’s children have lived happily here, many having moved on to contribute to society. Today it may well be assessed as one of the nation’s most efficiently run homes.
In a holistic philosophy of child development, education is seen as pivotal. Coming as they do from varying geographical, social and psychological spaces, schooling allows for a broadening of learning experiences that lead to self empowerment. They all attend school. Today there are 14 children.
To cater for all their curriculum needs and learning abilities, resources are accessed such as counselling, remedial reading, special instruction, extra lessons, in-house home work supervision and a reader friendly library. Computer technology of the day also contributes to the learning proficiency of these children.
In a reciprocal functioning of the Centre, other institutions avail themselves of this home to fulfill their own agenda. The courts may send, as part of their probationary system, youngsters to perform community service as a corrective measure.
Secondary schools too, in the community, gravitate to this institution, recognised for its professional record keeping and transparent infrastructure, to fulfill their students co-curricular mandatory community service.
Often these students would oversee the homework and revision periods of the girls and boys at the Centre. University students too, often choose the Hope Centre to fulfill the requirements of their practicums in their study of social work and psychology. This healthy interaction is indeed beneficial to all those who engage in this sharing process.
“What makes it a home?” we may well ask. Meals, beds, furniture, cooking, dining and laundry facilities, playing field, toys, books, computers and now solar energy all make a complete physical package. Each child has his or her own space and personal paraphernalia even as each one shares in the common areas and shares all the facilities of the Hope Centre family.
Loving supervision, daily management, a disciplined caring routine, visitors’ frequent presence all continue to administer to the general tone and to the efficiency of the home. School days, church assemblies, birthday parties, summer camps, competitive sports, games, all contribute to a healthy social interaction within the family members themselves and with the community. One child excelled in the school football competition as the best shooter and was given a trip to Tobago where she also won the competition. Another child was given a trip to Disney World last year and six primary school girls who were on their school’s football team went with the team to Tobago.
Several kind and generous supporters provide these complementary services. Qualified people in the fields of medicine, psychology, law, education, dentistry and religion continue to serve this institution. Several food donors in their generous supplies even allow this centre at times to share with other homes and caring centres. There is an amazing fundamental sense of giving and receiving. The children themselves are happy recipients of all this social interaction.
Often they are invited to birthday and Christmas parties, and other social events. Sometimes they participate in summer camps or group outings. The philosophy is always to restore a sense of normalcy and a healthy return to life and to living. The caregivers and manager are the in-house cornerstone of the Hope Centre. Four of them, two at each shift manage the institution on a daily basis. They provide meals, send the children off to school, supervise the homework, instill values, inculcate good, positive thinking, settle quarrels and generally attend to their needs. They themselves stand out in their caregiving as they are also trained in this field.
They learn management skills and learn how to identify abuse or anger as psychological expressions of the child. They too grow as they serve. As a charitable non-governmental organisation the manager maintains a proficient record system so that each child has his or her own journalistic life record. Legal documents too accompany these files. Sometimes, it becomes necessary for the supervisor to procure documents such as birth certificates and would be subject to the rigours of the various agencies and their demands.
The children themselves develop many skills. On weekends they learn through being involved in household chores. Some may assist in the kitchen, others may give a bath to a baby sister in the home. A few may learn skills in the business places such as caring for children, sewing or nail care as investments in their capacity to earn a living in the future. Many who have left the institution return home to visit the others there, thus continuing the support base.
This non-denominational home remains a landmark on the hills of San Fernando. Nestled against the hills, this Hope Centre offers a refuge for our children who have been hurt or had to be away from home for a while. This institution offers hope and is a sanctuary for them. Its sustainability has been primarily through the caring community. The Government makes a yearly very limited financial contribution. Donors and volunteers provide hope and their compassionate gesture is well appreciated.
Many have given their services professionally and tangibly. Their resources of time and expertise continue to cater to the needs of those among us who are the most vulnerable of our nation’s human resource. The chairman, Mrs Polly Indar sees her board members, the supervisor, the caregivers and the community as instruments of this thrust: “If ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”
Humanitarian service can never truly be measured in quantities or in time span. Man’s kindness to fellow man flows from the innate quality to transcend his own limited human quality and to ascend to angelic heights. And there are many who amidst the throng of crowded madness, find it within themselves to give care and to give love. Today, then, we join with the Centre in celebrating 20 years of service. May they continue to meet the challenges and to transcend them and to continue to serve with passion and humility.