Despite not having access to certain opportunities, 25-year-old Alanzo Johnson has been helping to create pathways for those in need, including the formation of a skills training programme that so far benefited 18 youths in his rural community.
He is from Eight Mile district, next-door the birthplace of Reggae icon Bob Marley in Nine Mile, St Ann, and is the fifth of 10 children for his mother Andrea Jones.
Johnson described life growing up as a bumpy ride, wherein resources were scarce in his household and community.
He added that, due to the underdevelopment of his district, residents lack opportunities and some of them end up in what he described as a damaging cycle.
“The girls would get pregnant by grade nine to grade 10 in school,” he explained. “And the young boys would get stopped from school and would then turn to activities like marijuana use.”
Johnson’s family was not spared some of the negatives. “I have a sister who has never been to a high school and another in the same category,” he lamented.
He added that the rate of unemployment in Eight Mile district is high. Residents have to travel miles to find jobs in places such as Brown’s Town, Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay. Many don’t have the motivation for the journey and some don’t possess the necessary qualification to secure meaningful employment.
Johnson is on a mission to help reshape the narrative of not just his family, but also of other young people in rural Jamaica, especially Eight Mile.
To that end, he has been initiating a series of intervention projects such as summer school and community fundraisers.
His most recent initiative was an eight-week training course, which he facilitated to provide certification for 18 unattached young people living in and around his community to become guest room attendants.
In making that project a reality, Johnson reached out to and collaborated with the State-owned HEART Trust NTA, which responded by training the young people during sessions held at Prickly Pole Primary School in St Ann.
He noted that a number of other agencies and people eventually came onboard to offer invaluable support.
They included Judith Whyte-Gayle who is the principal at Prickly Pole Primary, the Marcus Garvey Information Centre, Nordia Henry who provided drug abuse counselling, St Ann Youth Empower Officer with the National Youth Council Nagorgia Campbell, and Vinette Robb-Oddman who made her guest house available for the practical aspect of the training.
Five people who participated in the programme have gained employment since being trained, albeit not in the specific area in which they have been certified, Johnson said.
Dianna Mitchell, a beneficiary of the programme, is now employed as a housekeeper at Coral Gardens Spring Hotel in Trelawny.
While emphasizing that the programme has helped her to seize the employment opportunity, she encouraged other youths to come on board when the training resumes. “When you have a certificate, it’s easier for you to get work in the hospitality industry,” Mitchell asserted.
She also lauded Johnson. “He tries everything so that we can reach a different level than sitting at home doing nothing,” she said.
Johnson has expressed an intention to expand the programme to include other courses such as commercial food preparation and customer service.
His voluntary work has caught the attention of many, including his Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna.
“I am so proud when young people use their own initiative to get things done and seize opportunities,” Hanna said in a social media post, commending Johnson for his proactive approach towards mitigating some of the challenges facing youths in the constituency.
Though Johnson is busy trying to help young people to accomplish their dreams, he is struggling to achieve his.
He began studying at Northern Caribbean University in Manchester, but halted it in 2020 due to personal challenges.
The aspiring social worker, who is now employed at a school, intends to resume reading for an associate’s degree in Social Work in September.
He is of the view that one’s challenges should never be a reason for one to quit – a statement justified by his experiences.
“There is more to life than hanging around saying that the opportunities are not here,” Johnson asserted. “Your dream can only become a reality if you allow it to.”
Noting that his community efforts are selfless, he declared: “I want to leave an impact on the other youths, to let them know they are not alone.”
By Jamar Grant, Jamaica Beacon Journalist
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