Xchanger Andred Taylor - Positive Change Begins With Him
Almost four years ago, Andred Taylor was a 16 year old on his own, living in Tawes Pen, a community severely affected by violence on the outskirts of Spanish Town, Jamaica’s old capital. He was just starting 10th grade in high school when he had to leave school because of financial difficulties.
“My father was working but he didn’t really take care of me. At that time I was living with him, my stepmother and my step brother and sister. When I saw there was no money to pay school fees or even to buy lunch, I just stopped going to school.”
With his education disrupted and no support from his father, Andred realized he had to fend for himself. He made contact with a group of older persons who introduced him to the business of buying and selling carpets and rugs.
“We would buy the carpet wholesale in downtown Kingston, take a bus and go to May Pen (an urban centre about 58 kilometers from Kingston) to sell it. Business was profitable but only at certain times. It was very hard to find customers at some times of the year. So I did that for about a year.”
The money he earned was simply to take care of himself – to buy toiletries such as soap, toothpaste, washrags, and food as he did not get any meals at home. When carpet selling went on the decline, Andred sought other work and got a job with a small landscaping company in Kingston. But bad luck struck again. His employer’s vehicle was stolen and business slowed down.
This was when Andred approached Mrs. Claudette Pious, the head of Children First, a UNICEF supported NGO, to ask her to help him get a job. She told him she had no work available but suggested he join the Youth Wellness Centre programme where he would be exposed to training in a number of areas including remedial English and Mathematics, vocational skills training, life skills and sexual and reproductive health.
“To tell you the truth, when I just started, it made me feel like a little boy, to be going to school again. But little by little I started to feel back the whole school vibes and even the Maths that I learnt started to come back to me!”
He successfully completed the training and learnt basic videography as his vocational skill. His favourite subject is Mathematics but he feels it is in adolescent reproductive health that he has gained the most knowledge. It was the first time that he had the opportunity to learn about the human body and how it functions. As a graduate of the programme, he is now a part of the Bashment Bus team, a Children First project supported by UNICEF and other partners, which provides mobile adolescent reproductive health information and services to at-risk youth.
The 18 months in the training programme were not always easy however. Very often he struggled to find money for lunch or bus fare to be able to attend classes. He said both his mother and Mrs. Pious assisted him as best they could to ensure he had money to travel to and from school.
“That was the most difficult thing – finding the fare and lunch money to come to school,” Andred recalls. He also remembers that he was a very different person when he just came to Children First: “I had a very bad temper. But now I have learnt to control my anger and I feel my self esteem has improved,” he says.
He feels however that the biggest change for him has come about because of his involvement in Xchange, an anti-violence movement being promoted by UNICEF in the Caribbean. Andred was one of eight young Jamaicans who participated in a one week youth leadership training programme in Trinidad under Xchange. All the Jamaican participants were specially chosen as youth who lived in communities affected by violence and who had shown leadership potential. In Trinidad they received training and shared experiences with young people from other Caribbean countries and from Brazil.
“Because of Xchange I got the opportunity to be a spokesman for youth in Jamaica, to speak out against violence. I also got the opportunity to go to Suriname to participate in the One Minute for Your Rights video workshop and for me that is a great thing!” Andred explains. He also says he learnt to be more tolerant of other persons with different beliefs and different lifestyles, because of the training he received in Trinidad.
As a part of the Xchange activities, Andred has appeared on local television and in the newspapers and this has earned him the respect of his family and his community.
“My father is very proud. Even now he still has the newspaper to show. People in the community are also very proud. Some of them even call me “Sir” now. I never used to get that kind of response before.”
After the training in Trinidad, Andred’s sister helped him move out of Tawes Pen. He now lives near to his mother and other siblings in the more peaceful, rural community of Point Hill. He has not forgotten all he learnt however and is determined to give information and advice to young people.
“Up in Point Hill we have organised a weekly discussion with the youth – I talk to them about AIDS and about violence and other topics. They find it very interesting and most of the bigger youths never knew certain things.”
He has also not forgotten Tawes Pen. In September he plans to start his Xchange project with schools in Spanish Town to remove the political graffiti from the walls in that community and replace it with murals designed by students, promoting peace.