Established more than 60 years ago, the Salvation Army’s Havendale campus includes a complex of services including: the “Nest” Children’s Home; the Francis Ham Residence for Elderly Blind and for Retired Officers; the Havendale Corps and basic school; and the School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Located in a suburb of Kingston, the complex suffered significant damage, since repaired, when Hurricane Gilbert hit in 1988.
School for Blind and Visually Handicapped
The first thing you notice about the School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped is that no one seems blind. No canes tapping about, no guide dogs on leashes; rather, you see children playing soccer, swinging on swings, climbing on the jungle gym, and gathering in groups chatting and laughing as children do. In the library, two or three students are gathered at tables, poring over books.
Looking a bit closer, however, you notice the books are in Braille and fingers are quickly skimming the pages; the soccer ball has rattles in it to direct the players; while the children laugh and play together, they connect in a manner all their own.
For more than 70 years, the Army’s school–the only one of its type in the country–has been home for visually handicapped children ages 4-19. “It’s a big family of 120 kids,” says A/Captain Albert Simmert who, with his wife A/Captain Darlene Simmert, is in charge of the school. While students live at the school during the term, they return home for the summer. The facility also has a deaf-blind unit opened in 1969 when a rubella epidemic hit.
“Our goal is to integrate the children into the regular school system, so they can function in life,” says Simmert, who notes the school has one of the largest Braille libraries in the Caribbean. “If they weren’t here, they’d be at home, dependent for the rest of their lives.”
Nearly 90 percent of Jamaica’s educated blind citizens have been educated at the school, which counts a senator as one of its graduates. A number of students have gone on to receive education at the university level.
Students pay $54 a semester–if they can afford it–which covers food, clothes, medicine, supplies, and other living expenses. “We charge that amount, but half the families don’t pay because they can’t afford it,” says Darlene Simmert. “We try to get sponsors for all the children, and for the grounds and upkeep of the property.”
Western Salvationist Amber Wheeler, Longview Temple, Wash., is serving at the school as a short-term missionary for 8 months. “I’ve never known anyone who is blind, and dealing with that is my biggest challenge,” she says. “But the kids are the best part! I love it that they want to spend time with me. I feel right at home here.”
The “Nest” Children’s Home
Right down the lane, 45 children ages 5-16 receive security, love, and a chance at life at the Nest. Children are placed by the government in the home, which is under the direction of Majors Ixmail and Marie-Eve Polusca, assisted by Lt. Jacqueline Palmer. Officers and staff provide children with physical and spiritual care.
According to Marie-Eve Polusca, a number of the children are learning-disabled and attend a special school. There, they receive more personalized help than they could get in other, overcrowded schools. “Many in grades 4-7 can hardly read, and classrooms here contain from 50-60 children.”
The home has a staff of seven to care for the children, many of whom have no parents. It costs the Army $2500 Jamaican each month to care for the children ($71 U.S.), and the government provides $500 Jamai-can ($20 U.S.).
The homeless and hungry are as much a part of downtown Kingston as the poverty and disrepair. No longer a popular destination for tourists and or a port for cruise liners, the old historical section is now home to a needy population.
Majors Frederico and Dorrit Craig, in charge of the William Chamberlain Memorial Men’s Hostel and Rehabilita-tion Centre, are a familiar and welcome sight in the area.
Five nights a week, with the assistance of Captains Reuben and Laurel Phillips and faithful Army volunteers,up to 600 hungry people are fed in three different locations. As the Army van pulls up to the trash-littered sidewalks, people quietly form lines, waiting to receive a hot meal. Compassion and practical assistance are served as well.
Why do they do it? “The poor you have with you always,” Frederico Craig said simply. “If we don’t feed them, they will go hungry.” For those sitting on the curbs and in the door steps, now enjoying a nourishing meal, hunger is held at bay for one more day.
“So much of what we see in Jamaica is at the survival level,” explained Colonel Dennis Phillips. “I’m so proud of what Salvationists do.”
Children placed in Windsor Lodge have not been treated well in life. The home can accommodate 24 children, ages infant to 9 or a little older, all of whom have been sent by the courts. “Half are wards of the state,” said Captain Jennifer Wright, director of the home. “All have been traumatized–either physically, sexually, or emotionally abused–and most were severely malnourished. Many have had their records sealed, and we don’t know what has happened to them. Since most of them don’t have a true identity, we give them a name and a birth date.”
She tells of two brothers, ages 15 months and 6 months. When they arrived at the home, they had been living in some bushes, and the older one was caring for the younger one. Both parents were substance abusers. At Windsor, children are nurtured physically and spiritually as the staff lives out the home’s motto “Give love to a child today, help him along life’s way.” The generosity of “strangers” is a blessing as well: child sponsorships, both individual and discretionary, provide a major part of the funding. Carrots and gunga peas, and livestock–goats, pigs, chickens and a cow–are raised on a modest farm on the site and contribute to meals.
Wright has her hands full. Alone with the children from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., without the help of an assistant or helper, she tucks the children into bed and watches over them through the night.
Hanbury Home for Children
Vision and innovation–with a goal of self-sufficiency–are the hallmarks of Hanbury Home, under the leadership of Majors Rudolph and Jean Richards. A solar oven, agricultural and livestock programs, and bio-gas plant (a method of using waste water and pig and cow waste products to produce cooking gas) are all serving to make the home self- sufficient.
The Richards’ strive to make the children independent as well, guided by the words on the plaque outside the home: “That none would leave our care without an exposure to the love of God and a surviving skill.”
There are 79 children ages birth to 18, and a staff of 22. Children are placed in the home by the government, which gives a subsidy covering about 40 percent of the child’s needs. Thirty-two children are in “Babyland,” a nursery facility for infants and young children. While most older children attend school off the premises, there is a school for children with learning disabilities on site, as well as a preschool for children ages 3-6. Richards is building a training school on the grounds to teach skills such as shoe repair, upholstery, sewing, cosmetology, and radiator repairs.
Alcan of Jamaica donated 23 acres of land which had previously been mined for bauxite. “We have more than 300 plantain plants and 200 sweet casabas,” says Richards. “We employ three men to tend the garden, which includes sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkins.”