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Farm an ‘opportunity’ for at-risk youngsters

Therapeutic environment: Minister of National Security Wayne Caines (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A farmer has pledged to support young people growing crops and raising chickens as part of a scheme designed to deter them from violence, Members of Parliament heard.

Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said the man had offered his help to the fledgeling farm and a restaurant had promised to buy its produce.

He was speaking after the Throne Speech reply given by Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, last Friday.

Mr Caines referred to an extract from Mr Cannonier’s speech that said: “There are glaring omissions in the ‘Throne Speech Lite’ in respect of dealing with gang violence and the increasing gun play in our streets.

“This, although there is a very well-compensated pastor allegedly in total control.

“Frankly, the reintroduction of parish constables just does not cut it and neither does a chicken farm.”

Mr Caines said the Throne Speech reply was “unnecessarily combative”. He said an attempt had been made to reduce “the chicken farm ... to a soundbite”.

Mr Caines explained: “That farm will be called Redemption Farm. I think the name of the farm is apropos because it deals with some of the challenges that we have in Bermuda.

“Redemption Farm will be an opportunity for at-risk young men and women to be in a therapeutic environment.

“The first part of this will be the therapeutic part of it. In other words, young men and women will simply not be out grazing and raising chickens.”

He said people will be assessed for suitability for the 12-week programme, which will include guidance on time management as well as how to “dress for success” and help participants find “balance”.

Mr Caines added: “We’re not just trying to give away fish, we are trying to teach the people of Bermuda how to fish and in keeping with that agenda ... we feel that it’s important to teach them a skill.

“We believe that farming, not only does it have the necessary therapeutic elements with the hands in the soil, but it is indeed an excellent opportunity for the young men to learn a trade and to indeed have the ability to make money from this endeavour.”

MPs heard a “young Bermudian farmer” had provided advice to the ministry and a meeting with the Bermuda Farmers Association was scheduled for last night.

Mr Caines said a restaurant had said it would buy all the produce that is not sold at the Farmers’ Market and that the business would be named “in due course”.

He also pointed to a series of measures designed to tackle violence and gang culture in Bermuda, including prison outreach schemes and a crisis response team, which worked to restore peace and help people affected in the immediate aftermath of a serious incident.

Mr Caines also highlighted the Inter-Agency Gang Enforcement Team, set up to bring together various organisations for monthly meetings to identify risks, and the Gang Violence Reduction Unit, which has “direct interaction with at-risk individuals”.

He added that a schools programme supported vulnerable pupils at CedarBridge Academy and the Berkeley Institute.

Mr Caines revealed “a major incident” involving teenagers had taken place on Corkscrew Hill on the outskirts of Hamilton last week.

He said: “A team immediately were able to go to CedarBridge and carry out what we would commonly call an intervention, finding out who the main protagonists were, sitting them around the table with school, police and members of our team.

“They were able to work together to find a common resolve.”

He added: “The gang violence reduction team has a significant plan that is a long-term solution to ending and stemming gun violence in Bermuda.”

Mr Caines said one youngster said to be involved in last week’s incident was assigned to attend the House of Assembly on Friday and watch the Throne Speech reply.

He added: “Key Members of Parliament were called outside to give him some inspiration and tell their stories.”

The minister also said Pastor Leroy Bean, whose $92,000-a-year contract as gang violence reduction co-ordinator was recently extended for two years, is “in the belly of the storm” every night as he tackled “issues breaking out in our community”.