At 22 years old, Chris* is like every young person: he has big dreams and enjoys spending time with friends and listening to music. A resident of Denham Town in Kingston, his ultimate goal is to be a reggae artiste.

In the meantime, he’s working in a hardware store and hoping to become a permanent employee. A participant in the Link UP project coordinated by Fight for Peace with funding from the European Union, he’s working with social worker, Karen McGlashin, on a plan to help him realise his goals. Karen describes Chris as a go-getter who is determined to improve his life.

He was referred to Karen by the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), a partner in the Link UP project. Through Link UP, PMI offers mediation services and coordinates a team of violence interrupters who engage youth throughout the community.

Link UP aims to raise awareness of human rights, and to strengthen the relationship between the community and Jamaican security forces. The project includes response services for youth who have been detained; psycho-social support for young people and their families, as well as joint activities between the community and the security forces, and training for community-based organizations (CBOs) and security forces.

Chris is one of 30 young people who had been detained by security forces within the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Denham Town since August 2020. Under the Link UP project, a Fight for Peace social worker has supported these young people in accessing state services, and addressing their psycho-social challenges to reduce the likelihood of them having future conflicts with law enforcement.

“God always put me in a position that people have love for me. Me always try — that’s my spirit,” says Chris. “When you have life…you get to see things to smile (about). Even one joke can carry you through. I just push through.”

With Karen’s support, Chris has recently benefited from a government-sponsored programme, the JSIF Poverty Reduction programme. He will begin his Level Two  training in metal work with the HEART Trust National Training Academy, after receiving welding equipment to start his own business, which he plans to work on over the weekends.

“Chris is one of the persons in the programme who knows what he wants. In our check-ins we map his needs and what he wants. We discuss what he needs to meet his goals, and he has consistently achieved each mini goal,” says Karen.

“What I have learnt is young people need someone to believe in them; to look past their circumstances and appearance, and care about them. It’s important that someone is there to encourage them.”

For Chris, Karen has become a mentor and a confidant. He says she has guided him in making decisions and helped him to develop alternatives to his usual way of thinking.

“Ms Karen plays a part (in my life) that not even a boss (plays),” says Chris. “Too much good things to say. Honestly, she is gem and genie. She encourages me, tells me the truth about things. She talks to me as if I was her business partner. She told me to put [a]cross myself well; with good qualities. Not everybody gets the opportunity to have someone like her. Because of her, me at an advantage.”

Chris’ decisions haven’t been easy to make in a community where his age and his needs make him vulnerable to gang recruitment. Facing food scarcity, he’s sometimes had to choose between buying meals and paying for data. He’s recently given up bleaching his skin to improve how he presents himself to the wider public. Through his focus and determination, and with support from Karen and others, he is forging a way toward his goals.

His current goal is to pursue his music ambitions, while completing his training and staying focused on practical ways to earn money. He’s saved and paid for his passport; and next he hopes to pay for his studio time to record an album. He also is excited to start his welding courses, and save for an electricity source so he can start a business and employ some friends. Despite the odds, Chris is confident of his chance for success.

“Me know me can do it. Fire power in me,” says Chris. “Me see myself being a superstar musically, behind the scene(s) a loving, careful person, creating jobs for other persons. Me see myself as a boss. (An) Individual destined for big things.”

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