The teenaged ‘agents for change’ who want to stop poverty in paradise
Teenage boys are typically known for sleeping late, playing sports and spending countless hours on video games.
But a group of 14-year-olds became “agents of change” after they were inspired to help tackle poverty.
D’Mori Harvey, Ajahni Lema-Bascome, Zeshawn Williams, Sivaja Perinchief and Danté Sousa saw for themselves how some people lived outdoors or in cars.
They took action and appealed to the public to “help reduce poverty in paradise”.
Zeshawn said: “Poverty exists for individuals whose needs are not being prioritised by those that should be helping them.
“Poverty is being put into a predicament that nobody could imagine and feeling hopeless like there is no way out.”
D’Mori added: “When you look around Bermuda, yes, you might see homelessness, but our problem is much deeper.
“There are people struggling to keep their houses intact.
“Individuals are being forced to decide between which bill they can and cannot pay each month; rent or groceries, electricity or wi-fi.”
The teenagers were part of a community change project run by Family Centre’s Youth Leadership Academy.
A spokeswoman for the charity explained that the YLA is a five year programme that starts at Dellwood Middle School and continues into high school.
She explained: “Through exposure to opportunities, young people learn that leadership is not just a position, it is about taking action.
“They learn the importance of their voices and that they must initiate actions that will bring about the change they seek.”
Deneca Zuill, a YLA programme coordinator, said that young people looked at topics such as social justice, poverty and the negative effects of discrimination and inequality during summer workshops.
She added: “The students were given the opportunity to witness first-hand poverty experienced in Bermuda.
“This was an eye-opener for many of the students in the programme who were not aware of the extent to which poverty exists in Bermuda.”
The workshops included data, such as the statistic that 23 per cent of Bermuda’s population lived in poverty according to the 2016 Bermuda Census.
The young men asked: “How is this possible on an island known to be one of the wealthiest around the world? How can this be happening while we are so blind to it?”
A Family Centre spokeswoman said: “The young men brainstormed ways to be agents of change within their community.
“They decided to raise funds to assist Bermuda charities that directly aid the poor, and to use their voices to highlight this serious social issue at a governmental level.”
The group developed the “Help Reduce Poverty in Paradise” campaign, which ran from August to December last year and included appeal letters to businesses as well as a social media drive.
Ajahni said in a video to highlight the group’s work: “We felt horrible about what is happening on the corners of our streets, in our neighbourhood bus stops, in caves that we never even knew existed and on our beaches.”
Zeshawn added: “We visited the waterside where a man sleeps on the edge of the rocks every night.
“We went to a location where a skilled mechanic had to resort to living in his cars because he couldn’t meet his basic needs with what he was getting paid.
“There is a community of people that live in makeshift houses and have had to learn to live off the land because they have no other means to survive.”
The group raised $3,500 through their campaign, with the proceeds split between Salvation Army Community Services, the Eliza DoLittle Society and Christ Church Warwick’s Loads of Love programme.
Ajahni said: “We chose these agencies because of their known reputation of working tirelessly to ensure those in our community that experience poverty are both seen and valued.
“Because of the work of these amazing organisations, members of our community are provided with groceries and a hot meal at night, shelter to safely rest their head, showers to bathe, a store front to purchase clothing at majorly reduced prices and free laundry facilities.”
The group presented the donations just before Christmas and the young men plan to continue their efforts by volunteering with the organisations.
Sivaja said, “The direct impact we will have on the lives of people currently experiencing poverty is great, but getting to the root cause is where long term change occurs.”
Danté added: “This project has helped me to recognise that there is always something underlying that we don’t see.
“Now that my eyes are open to the realities of what people are facing in Bermuda, it has made me want to continue being a part of the solution.”
Ms Zuill said: “We are very proud that the students who worked on the ‘Help Reduce Poverty in Paradise’ initiative are students from CedarBridge Academy and The Berkeley Institute in their S1 year.”
Beverly Daniels, the executive director for community services at the Salvation Army, Clare Mello-Robinson, the executive director at the Eliza DoLittle Society, and Reverend Alistair Bennett, of Christ Church Warwick, thanked the young men for their hard work and kindness.
To learn more about Family Centre and the Youth Leadership Academy programme, visit www.tfc.bm.