I’m not going to get into a bag of words with Minister Thwaites about what his “leggo beast” comment about some schoolchildren meant; I think stern voices are already tackling him and have at it. I’ve written often that Jamaicans don’t really care about their children, despite what they often say: actions don’t fit the rhetoric. 

I happened to spend Saturday morning with some prime material for leggo beast status, some children that had already been cast away and were in the care of the State. They were mainly boys, and were due to play in a 6-a-side football tournament organized by New Kingston Rotaract Club and Jamaica National Foundation. Our venue was Maxfield Park Children’s Home. I had volunteered to referee the games.

The field was my first focus: referees have a duty for player safety. I cleared the obvious rocks, broken glass, and pieces of metal from the rock hard dirt area that had been marked as the pitch.  

A rock in a hard place

I checked the goals and ‘nets’, which were pieces of torn tarpaulin.  

Goals and nets, not FIFA approved

I looked at the housing to the side of the field and waved to the handful of children who were pressing their faces against the security bars by the windows and doorways. 

Maxfield Park Children’s Home

They were all smiles. Their situation made me reflect on the view that many have that children in children’s homes are some sort of delinquents–maybe ‘leggo beast’. The fact that they are in institutions puts them into the class of social misfits, in many minds.

I’d not been to such a home in Jamaica before, so I had no measure of how it fitted on the scale of facilities. I noted, as I drove into the complex, that a basic school was within the walls. The grounds were tidy, with the usual crop of Jamaican trash strewn around–scandal bags, plastic bottles, more pieces of broken glass. The grounds were largely green, though, as shrubs and bushes of no particular beauty were around the edges of the grounds.

A Coaster bus arrived with a load of children; then a smaller van came with some more children. Some Rotaract staff appeared and things started to buzz. Tents were already up, but needed to be moved to be closer to the football field. I helped move them. I got introduced to my contact and started to get a feel for how the matches would be played. 

I’d come dressed ‘for work’, wearing my now-dated standard referee shirt. But, my uniform would pass muster with FIFA. 

Dressed, to impress or not

 The ‘teams’ started to gather and it was clear that this was not a set of matches between clubs with deep pockets and many resources. 

When the rules were being read to the teams, we passed over the section about ‘dressed uniformly’. Let’s just say they had the common outfit of being dressed. FIFA rules mention appropriate footwear. I noticed that many of the boys were kicking around without shoes or socks. On those stony fields?!image

Once the games started, several went to the sidelines to get rid of their footwear. Bare foot is better! Hold that thought, when you think about what these children lack. 

The football was good quality. One team was mainly 10-13 year-olds, and small, and the other two teams fielded bigger boys. Skillful interplay in tight spaces was the norm. Control was excellent. Speed and physical prowess were well displayed. Confrontations were few: the rules mentioned disqualification for any such display. But, Jamaicans don’t follow rules? Hold that thought. 

The matches, played round-robin, were fast and exciting. The little boys came out the winners. I smiled about the volunteer who’d worried about the little boys against the bigger ones. The winners wanted to know if they’d get the trophy and medals. Would everyone get a medal, even if they hadn’t played? That was all that concerned them. I reassured them. They ogled the prizes like hot food.image

But, they had to wait till they’d eaten lunch–hot dogs or chicken, rice and pasta salad. 

While eating lunch, one of the bigger boys from a losing team came up to me. “Mr Referee, this thing not fair: the little boys packed up in front of the goal and we can’t score like that!” I looked at him and reminded him that most of the little ones were half his height. I also reminded him that two of them had taken solid shots full frontal to their heads in trying to block the goal. If they’d been bigger, they’d have taken them in the midriff. Who was suffering, again? He huffed and puffed. 

I left before the awards: it was the children’s event to enjoy. Music was blaring, as I left. Children were dancing ‘The Whip’ and ‘The Nae-nae’. Some had broken out into dance on the field midway through the matches. I wished that someone had caught that in pictures.

I’m not going to get deep and philosophical about what makes children good or bad citizens. Let’s just say that input and output are linked. I didn’t get to discuss with the home managers how life is. I learned that all of the children are in school. I know that when they reach 18 they have to leave the homes; no hanging onto their parents for a while longer. What of work? What of making their own lives, after? All things to consider. Nothing simple. From whatever age they entered the homes, it would be their shelter and haven. Who loves and guides? Who teaches them to not be ‘leggo beast’?

I never heard one curse word over 4 hours. I never saw anything thrown in anger. I never saw a child challenge an adult. I never saw an adult turn on a child in a hostile manner. If only I could say the same for behaviour I’ve seen in some schools. Mr. Minister, have you really understood how schools work in Jamaica? 

On another note, I’ll throw out a few other observations. 

Why did the home not have a vegetable garden? It would’ve been both instructive and beautifying. 

Why did I not see any bins for recycling? We want to teach our citizens about having a tidy country? What do we do to give such lessons? 

Why were children not spending the early morning painting the walls?

I saw girls carrying bundles of clothes to washing lines and pots to a kitchen area. Normal life going on in abnormal circumstances. Some simple lessons are clear.
 

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