Mon | Aug 10, 2020

Agents of social mobilisation - Fi We Children Foundation back-to-school drive to help parents with ‘new normal’

Published:Saturday | August 1, 2020 | 12:12 AMJamila Litchmore/Special Projects and Engagement Editor
Brittania Gordon, public relations officer for the Fi We Children Foundation, is surrounded by students of Laura’s Basic School, recipients of the organisation’s first back-to-school drive in 2019.
Brittania Gordon, public relations officer for the Fi We Children Foundation, is surrounded by students of Laura’s Basic School, recipients of the organisation’s first back-to-school drive in 2019.

As they head into the new school year, students and parents are to get much-needed assistance in the form of back-to-school supplies from the Fi We Children Foundation.

With a team of more than 100 youth volunteers islandwide, Fi We Children focuses on child advocacy, art and community development, and eco-friendly initiatives.

The group practices social mobilisation, identifying cases across the island and launching drives on social media to mobilise their community. Some projects are small. At the Fisherman’s Beach in Lucea, Hanover, they are educating residents, especially young children, about the dangers of catching and eating fish from the garbage-filled drain that leads to the sea. To help solve that problem, they have turned to advocacy, writing to the Hanover Municipal Corporation, as well as the mayor and chief executive officer.

They have also offered practical solutions, donating garbage bags to the Old Hospital Park Beach in St James to help keep the area clean after a beach clean-up.

In a June 19 article titled ‘No one is supposed to live like that’, The Gleaner highlighted the dire living conditions of Jeremiah Watson. The team thereafter launched a canned food drive to assist and was able to present Watson with a package.

Their first back-to-school drive was held in 2019. Donations of stationery and supplies were garnered through social media and donated to Laura’s Basic School in Duhaney Park, Kingston.

ANNUAL DRIVE

This year, in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the challenges facing many families, the child-advocacy group is focusing on the now-annual drive and a book grant competition for students of primary and preparatory schools.

“Seeing the current financial climate due to COVID-19, we decided not only to provide a back-to-school drive, but our first back-to-school grant, sponsored by donors [and] volunteers,” Africka Stephens, founder and chief executive officer of the Fi Wi Children Foundation, told The Gleaner.

Donations from the back-to-school drive will go to students at the Mount Peace Basic School in Hanover and Chetwood Memorial Primary School in St James, with distribution set for August 20. The book grant is open to students in grades four to six registered at a primary or preparatory school.

To apply, they must write a 250-word essay about one change they’d like to see in the education system and how it would be implemented and email their submission to fiwechildren@gmail.com with their name, their grade, the address of the school they attend, a telephone number, and a photograph on or before August 14.

One student will receive a $25,000 book grant, funded entirely through donations.

“We are cognisant of the monetary pressures parents are faced with, seeing the dominant redundancy percentages and limited financial opportunities to help their child [or] children with their academic supplies. Hence, we decided to lend a hand, no matter how small,” stated Stephens.

With the idea of communal responsibility at its core, Fi We Children aims to help parents and children navigate the upcoming school year and the various challenges presented by COVID-19. The group’s donation list includes items it would not have had before in its past back-to-school drive, such as masks and hand sanitisers. It is the hope that the packages will help students at the chosen institutions to face the ‘new normal’.

MOST VULNERABLE

“Children are most vulnerable to the current pandemic, seeing that they are hyperactive and have a tendency to touch their faces with their hands or share hugs with their friends (especially since they haven’t seen them in so long). I’ve decided to include the COVID-19 healthcare items to help families who cannot afford to purchase these in bulk or at all and to provide a sense of safety for those attending school in this critical time,” said Stephens.

The 23-year-old, who is also a second-year law student at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, launched the Fi We Children Foundation on February 19, 2019, from her hall room. It was a natural path for the future lawyer, who hopes to one day work for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as its Latin America and Caribbean director.

“Growing up, it has always been my lifelong dream to assist children as a social worker, but after career research, I decided to venture into law as it provides flexibility for legislative amendments [or] legal opinions and advocacy to help directly with matters concerning children,” said Stephens.

Noting that the response to this year’s back-to-school drive has been “average”, it is the hope that it will pick up steam before the August 14 deadline.

“It is by no surprise, due to the economic downfall caused by the pandemic, volunteers [and] donors are finding it a bit challenging to help out like they normally do,” said Stephens.

Having already received donations from their outreach group and the diaspora, it is the hope that corporate partners or sponsors will come on board.

“[We] welcome and implore corporate entities, sponsors, or major sponsors to come on board as we’d appreciate the help,” said Stephens.

To learn more about the Fi We Children Foundation, follow @fwcfja on Twitter and @fiwechildrenja on Instagram. To donate, email fiwechildren@gmail.com or make a transfer to Africka Stephens, National Commercial Bank, Duke Street, Kingston, account number 065117738. Have a good story you’d like to share? Email us at goodheart@gleanerjm.com.

jamila.litchmore@gleanerjm.com

DONATION LIST

Notebooks

Stationery

Lunch kits/water bottles

Masks

Hand sanitisers

Brown khakis for boys aged 0-13

Female white blouses for girls aged 0-13

Socks for children aged 0-13

School shoes for 0-13 age group

Bottled water