The roads in upper Mc Kai Lands, Belmont, are narrow, and the prospects for many of the community's youths appear to be even narrower.The young people face many social issues growing up in a community which many would describe as a depressed area, and many of them come from backgrounds of disadvantage and abuse.
But at least seven of them are hoping to turn their lives around by taking up the challenge and scholarships offered by the MP for Port-of-Spain North/St Ann's West Stuart Young to participate in Servol's (Service Volunteered for All) Adolescent Development Programme. Funding for the scholarships came from private sponsors. All they wanted was a chance to prove themselves, improve their lot in life and give back to their community with the skills they are learning at Servol.
Young, minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Attorney General, believes the youths of Mc Kai Lands can be beacons of hope for their community.
Young said: "When I first entered the constituency of Port-of-Spain North/St Ann's West, there were a lot of warnings and somewhat negative connotations about an area called Mc Kai Lands.
"I made contact with persons who interacted with the youths and ventured into Mc Kai Lands to see what the community was about. Over time, I built a relationship with individuals from the area including Carl Clarke, who works with the youths.
"It has been a very rewarding relationship to see a community bond together and look after its youths in the way that they have."He said he was happy to see the young people progressing through Servol's programme and challenged them in turn to be leaders of their community and positive beacons of hope for the others to follow.
Young said Mc Kai Lands had proven to be an exemplary community and he welcomed the opportunity to work with any other community in the constituency that was willing to help itself the way Mc Kai Lands had.He said he was also working with residents to provide running water in the community for the first time. During the election campaign in 2015 he provided a number of water tanks for the community.
Clarke: Youths in Mc Kai Lands come from broken homes
Community activist Carl Clarke, 40, who is like a big brother or father figure to the youths in upper Mc Kai Lands, said he wanted to thank Minister Young for his initiative to give the youths the opportunity to learn a trade through Servol, a stipend of $50 a day, counselling and mentoring.
He said he hoped that other ministers and citizens of T&T followed Young's example and help parents with jobs as well. Mc Kai Lands needed a Cepep (Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme) gang, a construction crew, among other things for the area.
Clarke, a barber by trade, said he had been doing community work for ten years, but for four years he had become disillusioned with politicians and businessmen's broken promises to assist the community.
He said Young was different however; when he talked to the MP he sounded very positive towards the youths and helping the community. Clarke said even before the election campaign started Young asked him if he could get four youths to enrol in Servol.
But it was a challenging task to get the youths involved. At first the youths didn't really gravitate to the idea, Clarke said. But retired Scotiabank managing director Richard Young, the minister's father, urged him to get them involved–it started with one youth, Roy Bobb, who said he wanted to give it a try, then six other youths came onboard.
The elder Young, he said, helped source several sponsors and donations, books and equipment for the youths to go to school, and Francis Fashions donated shirts, pants and shoes for them to attend church.He said while introducing themto the programme and carrying them to Servol, he realised that some of the youths were crying out for help, the relationship with their fathers was distant, some fathers weren't even working while others were just hustling.
Clarke said some of the youths' mothers made many mistakes in life–and burdened with their own problems–they didn't know how to connect or relate to their own children.He said some of the youths didn't even have a mother or father, and the family members they stayed with treated them badly.
Watching them grow up, he understood that children were not the problem, it was their parents as they came from broken homes which influenced their behaviour and the apathy they encountered.
As the youths faced myriad social ills in the community, Clarke said he decided to stick around and be a big brother or father to them, someone who cared about their welfare and ensured that they stayed in the programme.He said he took up the mantle the way he was brought up by the elders in the community and applied their teachings to guide today's youths, and now the community is beginning to see subtle changes.
Clarke said the youths are now understanding what life is all about, when they wake up in the morning they now want to earn a living, they're talking about working, marriage, attending church, and getting their own house.He said there were many youths in ghettos all over T&T who were looking to make that step but people weren't giving them that chance.
With no encouragement from their parents, he said they needed the support from the business sector and politicians.He said God made the strong to help the weak, a recession might be challenging for big things, but if attention wasn't paid to the small things, the community may lose an entire generation and the situation could get worse.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to five of the youths who have been in the programme for four months now.
Abigail Stone, 15, the only girl from the area in Servol's Junior Life Centre programme said she liked how the school took the time to teach and instill discipline in students.She said she enjoyed classes and activities such as drama, marching, cooking, mathematics, computers, arts, English and life skills.Stone said she was one of the well-behaved students in Servol, didn't give trouble and listened to her teachers in one of the highest performing classes.She said she received good grades and the teachers liked her because she was attentive.She said she will continue working hard at school, make Young proud and not disappoint him.
Roy Bobb, 18, is studying air conditioning. He said Young encouraged them to do good and stay in school.Bobb said he wanted to let other youths know that it wasn't a bed of roses out there in the world.He said liming on the block made no sense, the best thing youths can do was to change their life and make the best of the opportunities such as the Servol scholarships that they received.
Joshua Samaroo, 18, is studying air conditioning. He said he wanted to thank Young for his initiative, the opportunity to give the youths a chance and put them through Servol.He said the life skills that they were learning will play an important part in their lives and he hoped that other youths throughout the country were given the same opportunity, and to help them stay out of trouble.
Nathaniel Mitchell, 17, who is studying auto mechanics, said it was a lot of work but rewarding.He said he would like to apply what he is learning as the area needed mechanics.Mitchell said he met Young through Clarke. He said Servol's adolescent development programme was very good, that the school should keep up the good work and see if it can get more youths involved.
Emmanuel Mitchell, 19, is studying food nutrition and wants to be a chef. He said the programme was beneficial to the youths in Mc Kai Lands and helps him stay off the streets.Mitchell said it made no sense liming on the block where someone could lose their life.He said Servol's programme offered them a chance to change their lives, to look for a better way out of the ghetto and become a better person. He said they were not going to let Young down.
For more information on how to help or donate to the youths from Mc Kai Lands call the MP for Port-of-Spain North/St Ann's West Stuart Young's constituency office on Observatory Street, Port-of-Spain, telephone 624-6855.