Women’s Centres of Jamaica Foundation have for several years organised a peer
counselling course for secondary school pupils.
Support Jamaica has been cooperating with the centre in Kingston over this venture and
I have been privileged to teach on the course for the past few years. We have developed course booklets on subjects such as personal
development, relationships, teen suicide and self harm, family work, abuse and
other emotional problems. The sessions have included role play exercises and
story telling – here are some examples of the young people’s stories.
A Sad Tale (Group D)
16 year old girl and her mother who lived in a village far away from the rest of
the family who lived in town. Her mother could not afford to send her to school
and to buy food to put on her table. So she sent her daughter Sharon to sell
herself in order for them to survive. If she had refused to go her mother would
have beaten her and bruised her skin. Then a few months later she got pregnant
and end up with AIDS. After having the baby she died the next year.
This was truly a sad tale and a good example of how
young people pick up negative and frightening images from media and health
professionals and can build up a picture of hopelessness in their minds rather
than being able to use information to provoke change.
The importance of this story was in getting the group
to suggest alternative scenarios and outcomes and ways in which s similar sad
ending could be avoided in future.
Suicide Group H
was a sixteen year old girl who’s mother did not trust her in that she was not
allowed to go out. One day her mother allowed her to go to an event that was
taking place at the National Stadium. She went with her sister ad while they
were there Monique lost her sister in the crowd. She then found other friends of
hers and started to walk with them. After the event was over her sister went
home without her. In that she arrived home very late, her mother was very angry
with her and told her things she did not like and it made her upset. She was so
upset that she felt like killing herself. The next morning she went to a friends
and told her that she was going to kill herself. Her friend did not take her
seriously so she didn’t say anything about it to anyone. That same afternoon
Monique went home, got a piece of rope, went to the back of their house , tied
the rope to a tree and hang herself. When her mother got home she started
looking for Monique but she was no where to be found. She was so worried she
never thought of checking the back because it was not a normal place for Monique
to be. Later in the evening when her sister got home she went round the back to
fetch something , when she saw Monique body hanging from the tree. She started
screaming. Her mother rush to her assistance and saw what was happening she was
so shocked she fainted.
A clear example of a young woman who was not listened
to. Our discussions centred on suicide and self harming as a failed
communication. Ways of being heard
and of listening to others pain and hurt were suggested. Despite the enormity of
the problems described in the young people’s stories – it is also important to recognise the less dramatic but
equally painful examples of not being heard and being ignored by loved ones
which may have provoked the story tellers to relate their stories.
Abuse - Group A
was a thirteen year old girl who matured early. She live in a single parent
family which included her and her father. She liked wearing very skimpy clothes.
This tempted her father for sex and led him to sexually abuse her.
on in her life it became a habit for her father to have sex with her. This made
her become anorexic and she started acting weird around her friends. They
noticed she would often vomit and sleep in class. A concerned friend , me, went
to her and asked her what was happening to her. Molly began to cry and asked me
kindly to leave her alone. I did as Molly asked. A day later Molly came to me
and told me all about what her father had done. Hearing this made me feel
sympathy for her. I felt curious because I wanted to know why her father did
this and also why she made (allowed) this happen for such a long time.
told her that the issue was too complicated and asked her if she would mind me
taking her to the guidance counsellor. She agreed that this was the best thing
to do. We went to the guidance counsellor who listened to Molly intensively and
gave her all the advice she needed. The counsellor also told her that she could have prevented it by wear more modest
clothing because she is only female in the home with her father. Therefore when
he sees her being so beautiful it makes him want to have sex.
my friend Molly did not get help I think in the future it would affect her both
mentally and physically.
This story led to an outcry from other class members
who were outraged that Molly should be accused of tempting her father by wearing
sexy clothes. She should be able to wear what she liked being expressed by most
of the class while some held to the point of moderating her appearance. Boundary
issues came to the fore. Should
father see her as attractive and beautiful – and if so should this incite
sexual feelings towards his daughter? The general consensus was that he should
see her as a beautiful daughter and not as a sex object.
Sexual boundaries are difficult concepts to discuss
and understand in class but linking the discussion to a story coming directly
from the young people’s experience brings the subject to life and they were
able to relate to the issues in a meaningful way.
A Suicide Group
Tina, a fifteen year old girl of Gladstone gardens
received the shock of her life when her Mom kicked her out of the house after
she found out she was pregnant. She told her Mom that se had got raped but her
Mom didn’t believe as Tina liked to flirt with Guys. Upon leaving her Mom
house Tina felt all alone. She felt no one loved he. So she did the unthinkable,
killed herself. She went to the train station and just stepped in front of a
we felt sad
felt like killing her Mom
We felt angry as we did not know who raped her
we felt all alone
we felt like blaming Tina her Mom
we were confused
This group were able to evaluate their reactions to a
both a suicide story and the problems of
being disbelieved when reporting a rape.
- Group G
Tracey and Jim had been friends for over two years.
However, as the relationship progressed and both began to live in the same house
it seemed as if the relationship was going down hill.
Tracey would prepare breakfast and dinner for Jim but
as time went by Jim began to make demands of Tracey. Demands he had no right to
make. He would hit her because the dinner was late in being prepared or the
house was in his opinion, not tidied properly. Very soon Tracey was being beaten
every day for reasons which Jim would shout and curses in a loud voice, adding
to Tracey’s humiliation. Sometimes she would try to fight back but he would
somehow over power her. Anyway, one day she got tired of his abuse. She decided
that she would kill him or move out if he hit her again.
That night he came home and found many faults with
what was done in the house. He began to hit her al over her body. Tracey felt
used and so badly abused. Eventually she found the strength to it back. She felt
all the frustrations she had held back all those times he had hit her. She
picked up a vase, while he recovered from a particularly vicious attack she had
made on him. As he began to move once more towards her , she hit him in the head
with the vase.
Thereafter she picked up the phone to report the
incident. With tears of frustration, anger and release she met the police as
they came to her gate.
Abuse at her Aunt’s Home
Kanaisha was two years old when her mom died in a car
accident, so she had to go and live with her aunt and her husband and two
Kanaisha started maturing her husband started touching her. He kept doing it for
a period of time. Then she decided that she can’t take any more of it so she
went and tell her aunt.
Her aunt said to her that she can’t do anything
about it because he is the one
providing food and it is his house. Kanaisha
had to cope with it because her aunt told her that if she told anyone she would
send her on the street to live. Kanaisha
started wondering if her aunt’s husband is touching his two daughters so she
went to her school guidance teacher and told what had happened.
The guidance teacher called Kanaisha, her aunt, her
aunt’s husband and the police. They all worked out what had happened and
Kanaisha’s aunt and aunt’s husband confessed to it and Kanaisha’s aunt and
her aunt’s husband was lock up and charge. Kanaisha was adopted by a nice
couple and her cousins were put in a children’s home.
When the aunt’s husband did it the first time she
could go to her aunt and if her aunt did nothing she could go to her guidance
teacher earlier and then to the police ad the police would take it from there.
A common scenario for children in a foster situation.
Difficult to deal with when the bread winner for the family is the abuser. When
do we provoke family breakdown and loss of earnings due to prosecution for
abuse? What is the greater evil. The turning point here was the young girl
protecting other children – should she have had the self worth to protect
David was eight years old. His daily chores after
school involved feeding the dogs, washing the dishes, tidying the house and
trimming the hedges when they needed it. Too much for and eight eyar old, right?
No Not according to his father David Beating IIIrd.
David’s father was 34 and still suffering from the
scars of being excessively flogged as a boy. This seemed to be a family
tradition. His father , his father’s father and the father before that all
seemed to believe that a proper ‘licking’ with a piece of barb wire was what
a boy needed to set him straight. Each successive parent would transform the
pain, frustration and anger inside in to blows fists and lashes of abuse.
At school, David was withdrawn and did not
participate much in class and school activities. He was not very bright and so
was teased and jeered by most of his classmates. He had very few friends and did
not trust or desire the friendship of his male teachers. His many bruises and
cuts were either hidden deep under his skin or under his shirt. No one suspected
that he was being abused. To them he was an unfriendly or shy child.
One day after PE at school David dragged himself home
very tired. He raked the yard, tidied the house and washed the dishes. Then he
went to bed. When his father came home from work at 8 in the evening he noticed
the dishes washed and the yard raked . He hit David violently in his upper back
and surprised the sleeping child.
“Yu Feed the dogs ..”
“No Dad ..”
Before David could finish his sentence his father
used his huge hands to slap him across his face.
worthless piece of trash you. Yu can’t do notin. Yu are no use to me” His
father marched out of the room and David knew exactly where he was heading. He
went to the tool shed and grabbed a piece of barb wire. With years of anger
blinding his eyes, he stormed to his son’s room and started to lace the
child’s back with the wire. David pleaded and cried but his father’s ears
were deafened by hate and years of degradation. David did not understand why his
father would beat him so badly. He could not understand why he was not loved. He
thought maybe daddy misses mummy. Maybe daddy had a hard day at work. Then
lastly he thought - maybe I am a bad boy and I don’t deserve to be loved. With
this thought he went to sleep.
The next day at school was torture. The barb wire
had torn bits of the flesh off his back and he couldn’t sit with his back on
the chair. At lunch he sat alone as usual. SMACK! A bully passed and hit him on
his back. The hit itself did not cause much pain but it must have tore some
loose skin off as it burned him and there was a little blood on his shirt. After
lunch a teacher watched him as he got up and noticed the spot of blood on his
clothes. She asked him what was wrong but he refused to tell her. She brought
him to the nurse who asked him to remove his shirt. He reluctantly undid his
buttons and took is shirt off. The secret was out. The nurse was amazed to see
the state of his back. Loose skin hung and his flesh was exposed in some parts.
The nurse called the police who came and took David to a home. His father was
called and questioned.
David stayed in the foster home for three weeks. At
the end of the three weeks was a court hearing. The judge recommended that both
David and his father get counselling and a decision be made at the end of the
After months of counselling David’s father got over
his anger and pain and David at 8 years old decided he would never abuse his
Of course this was David’s own painful story
– a certain amount of catharsis of pain occurred in the telling in class and
he gained a lot of support from the reactions of his peers.
poem below is a similar outpouring.
father beats me up
just like his father did
And grandad was beaten by
Greatgrandad as a kid
From generation to generation
A poisoned apple is passed along
And no-one thinking it’s wrong
and it is
Not the arguing the cursing the frustration or fear
A normal child can cope with that, it grows easier by
But the using abusing and beatings
Feeling the child is somewhat property owned
In this family violence condoned.
The peer counselling course provides a forum not only
for learning how to handle problems of others and how to deal with queries
coming from peers in the schools – it also provides an avenue to explore the
self and to obtain peer support from within the class.
in such a course can evoke very powerful feelings and images in the minds of the
youth who attend and it is essential that those leading the sessions are able to
take up the material presented and handle it appropriately so that young people
do not leave the room burdened by feelings which have been rekindled
but not dealt with. The leader must be able to contain the engendered
feelings thus providing a safe environment for learning and for personal growth.