Every NGO, with the right intentions, that has ever done work at St Michael’s School for Boys, could have disclosed what is now in the public domain. We have witnessed it and seen it for years—helplessly.
Our foundation’s first experience with St Michael’s was back in 2011 when we donated a complete library of books to the boys. When we visited a few weeks later we found half of the books missing and the rest under lock and key. When we asked the lady in charge why were the books locked up and what happened to the rest of them, she gave us an astonishing response to the effect of “we cannot trust the boys with anything since they mash up everything they get so it is better to be under lock and key.” As for the missing books we never got an answer.
We then again in 2012 taught some of our leadership classes to the boys. We were horrified when a few of the boys would come to class barefooted. We were told they had slippers but “lorse them” so the consequences were they had to go barefooted. We then noticed there were never any staff around during what was supposed to be school hours. Upon investigating same we learned that people were covering for each other and some staff members held full-time jobs elsewhere while still on the pay roll as full-time employees of the institution.
We publicly spoke about it, all to no avail. Many of our volunteers stopped going since it was actually causing mental anguish to their own lives.
We are no crime experts but we can guarantee if someone did an actual impact study on the number of Youth Training Centre (YTC) lads who originated from St Michael’s, we can bet you would find the numbers alarming. And if we further look at the percentage of adults in the adult jail system with origins from St Michael’s and YTC we would finally come to understand to solve crime in T&T you need to truly fix St Michael’s and YTC.
If we were given the opportunity to have input the very first thing we would do is develop housing for elderly teachers and respected seniors along the boundary of these facilities with the clear understanding that housing would be provided as long as they participate as mentors to these boys. Many of these boys have no idea what it is to have a loving parent or to be mentored or spoiled by a grandparent.
There is such simple wisdom in our senior citizens and allowing them the opportunity to participate in their old age as foster grandparents to these boys who may have lost their way.
Secondly, every single boy in these facilities has to be Torrance-tested (this checks their creativity iq) and tested for their capacity to grasp traditional education). They must get eye tests, medical tests, basic maths and reading tests etc. Only with these results in hand can anyone properly design an education system that functions to meet their needs.
Thirdly, I would immediately ensure ALTA has an on-site office and the funding needed to immediately deal with the literacy issues. I would also have other similar NGOs with on-site offices in soft skills, counselling, coding, art therapy etc. I strongly recommend The Barcam and the Two Cents Movement who specialise in spoken word therapy and performance therapy. These young men need to learn to speak up, share their hurts through today to move on and use their voices moving forward.
Fourthly, there must be an independent body dealing with the funding and ensuring standards are being met.
Now that we know, we must do better by these boys if we (as citizens and a Government) are truly interested in fixing crime in Trinidad and Tobago. I hope it is their time.
Sallyann Della Casa
Growing Leaders Foundation