By Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye
Founder and Chair, Child Rights and Restorative Justice Organization
Why are we, as adults, so reluctant to intervene in young people’s lives? I was in the car park of a bank recently after attending my Mausican big brother Desmond Waithe’s spectacular funeral, when two teenage boys, engaged in animated conversation, walked past me.
One of them was visibly upset and I overhead him shout, “I doh care what anybody say. I don’t care!” I decided to intervene and said, “But you must care. It is a matter of your reputation.” They stopped in their tracks and stared at me. I repeated: “You must care. Even though you feel frustrated, you must care, or you might get into trouble.”
Now I was aware that I ran the risk of being cursed. My daughter has warned me repeatedly not to interfere in ‘the young people’s business’, as she feared I might be putting myself in danger. Instead of turning on me, the youth said, “I in a situation, and I upset. But thank you.” I asked his name and he told me, and he asked me my name. When I told him, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. He had never met a senator before, he said.
He apologised for what he had said, and I told him there was no need. We chatted a bit and I asked him whether he knew his name was a powerful name in the Bible. He grinned and nodded. I urged him to live up to that name.
They walked off smiling. Their transformed demeanour was remarkable. I taught it was human to be angry, but wrong to act on that anger in a negative way. We are called to do ministry anytime, anywhere. That is a lesson I learnt from my parents, Archbishop Lawrence Burke (dec) from Jamaica and Bahamas, Fr Michael Makhan (dec), as well as Fr Herbert Charles CSSp, who encouraged me to start the Legal Advice Clinic in Arouca, now conducted by my daughter. As the teenagers continued along St John Road, I reminisced about two other teenagers who, a generation ago, had left Exodus pan yard after a fete one night and had walked along that same road. One ended up dead and the other was arrested for his murder. Their fight was about a soiled jersey.
The vice-principal in the area had sent the family to me at the Legal Aid Clinic at the Hugh Wooding Law School, where I was Director at the time.
At the preliminary enquiry in the magistrates’ court, the prosecutor from the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office agreed with my no case submission, admitting the prosecution had not negatived self-defence.
The magistrate sent the case to trial. The 17- year-old spent three years in prison, until a sensible jury, having listened to his story, accepted his plea of self-defence.
I urge adults to intervene in the lives of young people whenever they can do so. I am forever grateful to many adults who encouraged me in my youth. Some were relatives, others were teachers, villagers, those from the People’s National Movement Women’s League (who, incidentally, never urged me to join their party), head teachers, and Dad’s friends from Holy Name Sodality and the Knights of St John.
Today, many adults condemn youths but offer no guidance, support, or encouragement. It may be risky to approach angry, young people, but we should try to reach them where we can.
In 1977, during the transition period from junior secondary to senior secondary schools, I was engaged to teach English Language and Literature at Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive.
The first day, after calling roll, I realised that my Technical and Craft class was practically empty. Having received information, I went between the lockers, found the errant boys and marched them into the classroom.
One young man decided he preferred to look out onto the playing field and ignore me. After he disobeyed my order to turn his chair, I swung around his chair to face the front of the class and he stood up and raised his fist at me.
I stared him down fiercely, not letting him see the fear in my heart, as he was six feet to my five feet four. As he resumed his seat, I decided my lecture would be on the importance of technicians being able to write and speak correct English.
At the end of the term, I gave those students a scenario for an improvisation. They had to create their own dialogue. That way, they did not have to struggle to learn lines. They gave a spectacular performance for staff and fellow students.
In Teachers’ College, playwright Freddie Kissoon taught us the importance of drama in the classroom, and we learnt other skills to make classes interesting. Teachers must engage students. They must imbue students with the joy of learning. Too many teachers are bored and boring. They do not love teaching and they do not love their students, or care to even know them and what is happening in their lives. They cannot inspire anyone to learn.
Engaged students are not disruptive. They do not look for fights during or after school. Their teachers practise restorative practices, even though they may not know the term. An atmosphere of mutual respect pervades the classroom. Bringing the police into the school will create more problems than it will solve. After the summer school programme ended, I was on Frederick Street, when I heard someone shouting my name. I looked around and saw, wreathed in smiles, the same boy, who had behaved threateningly towards me. “Miss, Miss!” he shouted from across Queen Street and waved to me. I once thought that the Ministry of Education was the most important portfolio. Today, I believe that the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service is equally important and should be given all the resources required to carry out its important work.
We must do preventative and remedial work to save our youths and, ultimately, our beloved nation of Trinidad and Tobago.