Because Your Story Does Not End Where it Begins; An account of Omar Johnson, a young man from Flanker creating a new chapter in his life.

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Omar paving a new way in his life.
USAID/Jamaica Stock Image

Growing up in a single parent household in the volatile community of Flanker, St. James was extremely challenging for 30-year-old Omar Johnson***. The third of four children, he was raised by his mother who operated a shop which sold basic food items to the community. However, the money she earned was never enough, and it was difficult to make ends meet. 

Omar admits to having unpleasant recollections of his childhood, including insufficient food to feed his family. With insufficient funds for lunch money, bus fare, and school supplies, he was often absent from school. This was a problem for him as it dampened his dream of becoming a doctor. 

“I was bright, and I loved school. Being absent hurt my heart and soul,” says Omar.  

This hurt morphed into anger, seeing his dreams decay simply because of his socioeconomic status. He became aggressive and disrespectful toward authority, got into frequent fights, and was in conflict with the law due to gang-related activities. His out of control behavior pushed him to leave his mother’s house as a teenager. 

Fast forward years later to one fateful day in September 2020, a case worker who was involved in the USAID-supported Positive Youth Transformation Project (PYTP) was doing her routine community walk through. It was then that Omar’s path crossed with the case worker, and she enrolled him in the project where he began his new life. 

Through the USAID-funded Local Partner Development Activity, the objective of PYTP is to provide holistic and meaningful activities for targeted Jamaican youth to steer them away from a life of crime and violence. Through this project, Omar received a treatment plan designed specifically for him, a key component of which was anger management counseling support, to help him reintegrate into wider society, live and work with other people, and exercise greater control of his emotions. 

Omar’s overall case plan also included certification and life skills training and provided regular mentorship, motivation, and participation in group counseling sessions. In 2020, Omar was also a beneficiary under USAID’s COVID-19 response to provide food vouchers and sanitation support to 1,000 Jamaicans. With his vouchers, Omar purchased food items and set up a cook shop in the house he shares with his mother, selling Jamaican dishes and natural fruit juices. The support from USAID allowed him to make a profit, which he reinvested in his business. He also completed a business development course through USAID and has received equipment - including a stove, blender, microwave oven, and refrigerator -  to expand his cooking and catering business. 

Omar Johnson is now a changed young man with big dreams of contributing to his community and country. Having first-hand knowledge of the lure of gang involvement to young people struggling to survive, he is committed to ensuring that he can properly provide for his two children and his mother while staying on a straight and narrow path. 

Omar’s advice to anyone caught in a downward spiral is: “Get help, get yourself trained and certified, always have hope and dreams of a better future, and then work towards it.” 

Though his life made several detours, he is now on his way to achieving his new dream as a ‘restauranteur’: one who wants to motivate and help others. 

 

***name change for protection of identity. 

Authors

Natalie Wheatle and Joan Andrea Hutchinson

 

Last updated: June 21, 2022

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