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Three years ago, Justin Francis, 10, was deliberately stabbed in the left eye with a pencil by a classmate, while attending the Rosary Boys’ RC School. The injury has left him partially blind, even after three surgeries. On Tuesday, during the launch of an anti-bullying campaign in San Fernando, Public Administration Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan presented Justin, who still requires surgery, with a cheque to help with his aftercare.
Justin’s mother, Alana, said her son still has to undergo corrective surgery to restore full vision in his left eye. She expressed gratitude to all those who had helped her family deal with this tragedy. Seepersad-Bachan, who is also the San Fernando West MP, said she had embarked upon a journey to restore sanity to the nation’s schools. The campaign will target some 23 schools in the San Fernando district.
Seepersad-Bachan launched the initiative with president of the Anti Bullying Association of T&T, Jeromy Rodriguez, 12, the police, the Ministries of Education and Gender and the National Parent Teachers Association. After the launch, the team began its first lecture at the San Fernando Girls’ and Boys’ Anglican schools.
Rodriguez, a student of the Cowen Hamilton Secondary School, Princes Town, had to rush through an exam to get to the launch on Tuesday. He told school principals the association was conceptualised after his sister endured two years of bullying.
“I started this campaign because of my sister, Vickieve Harrington. She was being bullied at school and it really broke my heart to see her coming from school with a black eye, no money, because this child at the school was taking away her money and she was not focusing on school,” Rodriguez said. Together with his mother, Yvonne Harrington, Rodriguez envisioned taking an anti-bullying campaign to schools and put it into operation.
Rodriguez said the campaign had been successful to date, but with bullying in schools spiralling out of control, he called on the Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh to make some kind of intervention to end this scourge. School supervisor Claire Telemaque gave the assurance that the minister was doing just that. She referred to a parenting conference on Monday, where stakeholders were invited to work with the ministry to ensure the problem was eradicated.
Telemaque said only recently, the ministry hired some 732 student support officers, who are guidance officers, school social workers, educational psychologists and counselling psychologists, to help support students so they do not go the way of bullying. Community police inspector Michael Maurice applauded the initiative and committed the police service to working with any organisation to end bullying in schools.
The campaign was also endorsed by Senator Raziah Ahmed, Minister in the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Affairs. She said she was happy to be a part of this important initiative, “to ensure that the welfare of our children in the schools and outside of the schools are not hampered by a growing rampage of what appears to be a popular campaign of bullying, that is fed by the social network, by media, by the ability of young people to upload videos instantly, to transmit pictures instantly, of incidents that hurt and belittle our little ones.” Seepersad Bachan concurred.
“No school and no child is safe from the scourge of bullying, a phenomenon that has been with us from ancient times but which has been made much worse by the increased availability and use of social media and problems in parenting, problems in society. “It is no longer one boy or one girl being terrorised or ostracising another, or a gang of kids making life miserable for others. What we see are various manifestations of the problem of bullying: cyber bullying, office bullying, peer bullying and even bullying by parents.
“The effects of this horrendous act on our young citizens are detrimental to the personal growth and wellbeing of our children and poisons what should be a constructive and positive school environment to one that is destructive and negative.”