A Jamaican national and resident, Ms Claudette Richardson Pious is co-founder and executive director of Children First. This is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1997, dedicated to improving the lives of Jamaica’s street children.
Ms Richardson Pious began her career as a drama teacher. After meeting a truant boy and hearing his story, she joined the Jamaican branch of the UK charity Save the Children. In 1997 when Save the Children was phasing out of Jamaica, she helped start Children First, an NGO.
Today, Children First is the largest NGO of its kind in Jamaica. It serves over 600 children, aged three to eighteen. The focus of the project is to work with and for children using the child participation technique, empowering them to become actively involved in decision-making. It provides remedial education, basic skills training, counselling, school and homework assistance, recreation and sporting activities, career guidance and child rights education, among other things.
Her organisation, with UNICEF and other organisations, in 2005 started a “Bashment Bus” that tours rural towns in the parishes of St Catherine, St Anne and St James to bring sexual health information to young people. This is one of the groups with a fast growing rate of HIV infection: 15 per cent of adult infections worldwide occur in people 15-25 years old.
The “Bashy Bus” goes to local hangouts to give vital information on HIV/AIDS, such as the importance of condom use and delaying sexual activity, through the use of drama and music. It has also provided testing and counselling to some two thousand, five hundred (2,500) young people. In just one year, it reached some twenty-five thousand (25,000) young people with information on HIV/AIDS. Its methods are about to be emulated in a worldwide campaign.
Children First is taking children off the streets. These are children who have been abandoned or neglected. Many see themselves as worthless and they become prey to the dons, criminal bosses who control neighbourhoods in parts of Jamaica. As one of her “graduates” said, “Ms Pious has been an excellent force in my life. Without her training, I would probably be locked up or dead.” That young man went on to become a reporter at a leading Jamaican newspaper. His is not the only success story coming out of Children First: Through Children First and the work of Ms Richardson Pious, many of these so-called “street kids” have returned to normal school; some have gone on to university and a significant number of them have returned to work with Children First.
Ms Claudette Richardson Pious is one of our Public and Civic Contributions laureates. She shares the prize this year with Ms Annette Arjoon.