From Trauma to Triumph

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Through pain there is strength. Abigail Blake was determined to succeed despite the trauma she endured from an early age. A former ward of the State, Abigail was given the tools and opportunities to lay the foundation to thrive with support from USAID. Today she is pursuing her dream to become a guidance counsellor, one who is a helping hand to those in need.
Abigail Blake

By the time she turned 14, Abigail Blake had suffered through physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Sent to live with another family at age 7 by an overwhelmed mother, Abigail hit her lowest point in, of all places, a church. She slept there for three months.

“At this point I was tired, it’s as if everything in the world was against me, I was tired. That night I kept crying and crying and I had no more tears, I had no more fight within me,” says the now 19-year-old as she recounted her tumultuous past. Shortly after staying at a nearby church, Abigail formally entered State Care.

Sadly, Abigail’s plight is not uncommon for many girls and young women. The U.S. State Department 2018 Human Rights Report on Jamaica notes “shelter facilities were insufficient for women and girls and less available outside of the capital area.”

Overall, there are more than 4,000 children currently in State care in Jamaica, with about 290 youth discharged every year because they have reached the age of 18.

“When children lack families or other guardians to properly raise and protect them, the Jamaica authorities take responsibility for these children until they reach adulthood,” explained USAID/Jamaica Country Representative Jason Fraser. “To help give these children a chance to succeed in life, for six years USAID worked with children currently in State care and those transitioning out of State care to ensure they have the necessary life skills to be productive members of society.”

While living in State Care in 2018, Abigail received the opportunity to participate in a Transition to Work internship program funded by USAID through its Transitional Living Program for Children in State Care Activity (TLP-CSC).

The TLP-CSC was the first of its kind in Jamaica, as it used a multi-dimensional approach to prepare wards of the State to transition into independence and lead successful lives. This included life skills training and coaching, vocational skills training and mentoring, and activities to reduce the likelihood of high risk situations, such as substance abuse and unemployment.

Abigail’s internship not only taught her vocational skills, but landed her a full-time job with the company she was interning with, West Indies Home Contractors. While excited to have a job, she had another dilemma to address: finding safe housing, as she had to leave State care because she had turned 18, thus reaching legal adulthood.

“The [state] home felt I was now an adult and it was time for me to leave,” Abigail said.

However, Abigail did not have to look far for housing. Through the TLP-CSC activity, USAID has created two safe transitional living facilities for youth who do not have any housing options once they leave State Care. Abigail applied for and received residency.

“Sadly, many of these young people are headed into adulthood without any support from family. By providing safe housing and support, we are helping both the individual and the community. Equipping our youth to succeed and giving them a safety net in the form of housing ultimately helps contribute to creating strong and vibrant communities within Jamaica.”

— USAID/Jamaica Country Representative Jason Fraser

Selected youth, such as Abigail, are able to stay for a period of up to two years while they transition to independent living, whether through obtaining employment or pursuing additional skills training or tertiary education. During their time at the transitional complexes, they are provided with mentorship and additional support to aid their successful transition out of State Care into adulthood. Together, these two housing facilities can serve as a home to up to 52 youth.

“The support from USAID has made this dream possible for youth like Abigail to have a safe space to call home while they continue their preparation for independent living. We are indeed grateful for the Agency’s commitment to the project and I know Abigail and others who have benefitted from the project are extremely grateful as well,” says Kathi-Ann Thomas, Project Field Assistant for the Caribbean Child Development Center.

Adds Abigail: “This home is my breakthrough with everything, it’s my safe space and I am comfortable and grateful for it.”

Currently enrolled at a local teacher’s college, Abigail is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Guidance Counseling, and feels her past has played a role in her decision-making and who she is as a person today.

“Through pain there is strength, and what happened to me then keeps me going now,” she says. “I have to get that degree because I believe I want to be that person a child in need can call on. I remember not having anyone to call on for help, I want to help because I believe no child should go through what I went through.”

From 2014–2020 USAID partnered with the University of the West Indies Caribbean Child Development Center and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency to implement the TLP-CSC activity, which positively impacted an estimated 1,000 youth in State Care. At the conclusion of the project, USAID provided vocational skills training and employment opportunities to more than 500 young people; life skills coaching to more than 870 young people, and transitional housing for up to 52 youth.

About the Author

Kimberley Weller is the Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID’s Mission in Jamaica.

Last updated: June 07, 2021

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