Claudette Pious – She puts children first
published: Tuesday | September 11, 2007
Sajoune Rose, Gleaner Writer
Claudette Pious during the interview with The Gleaner in her office at Children’s First in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. – photos by Junior Dowie/Staff Photographer
The need to see youth improve their lives and become successful individuals is her main drive. She lives by the belief that everyone can succeed despite the obstacles that might come his or her way.
We are speaking of the indomitable Claudette Pious, a woman who has risen from very humble beginnings where she experienced sufferings of all sort to a point where she is now directing the lives of youths, who had previously felt hopeless.
Unlike many persons who believe that poverty is the cause for the misfortunes of persons, Ms. Pious says this is a far cry from reality. One’s success, she says, depends on how much you want to achieve. "People who say poverty is a deterrent and dem caan do well, I don’t believe it because you affi have that determination." She believes that there are no excuses for failure. However, she reasons that, "If you sit down at home waiting for the job to come to you, it won’t come."
From an early age growing up in Manchester and later in Kingston, she learnt the importance of certain values. A grandfather with a wooden leg taught her that manners would take her places.
"As a Kingston girl, I didn’t know how to tell howdy. I didn’t know that I should tell cow and everybody howdy, so the next day I tell all bush howdy," says Ms. Pious, as she recalls the "proper beating" she received from her grandfather for neglecting basic manners.
Manners open doors
From that time, she said, she learnt that manners open doors and provide opportunities.
Growing up with an aunt because her mother migrated to Canada "to seek greener pastures", Ms. Pious says she got a very good experience of what it felt like to grow up without one’s immediate family. "I understood that she was not my mother and I also understood that I was Dorcas, the maid, very early, so I had to do a lot of Cinderella things and despite having some bumpy tings happen to me in life, there was always a likkle old lady in the community who would hide and gi mi a likkle money fi go school."
This, she said, instilled in her the motivation to do well and prove to her aunt that she could become a success in life as she had written her off, saying that she would not become anybody. "I bet her saying that before you die, I’m going to be a somebody and I was determined at all cost to do well," she said.
Formerly a teacher at Kingston College (KC), it was there that she realised what her true purpose in life was. She said that the "disappearance" of her boys led her to go to the Hope River where she discovered where they were spending their days. She said that she spent a few days sitting in the riverbed with the boys to understandwhat was happening to them and later discovered, "I’m not really supposed to be a teacher, I must be the guidance counsellor," she said. After that, she realised that this was her calling and started "sticking close" to the guidance department at KC and later doing courses in social work.
Save the Children UK
Later, there was an opening at Save the Children U.K., an international children’s charity based in the United Kingdom, which fights for children’s rights, and aims to deliver lasting improvements to children’s lives worldwide, which was doing some work in Jamaica. Taking the proactive approach, Ms. Pious went out to find the street children with whom she would have worked if she got the job. She aced the interview and in 1997, when Save the Children U.K. was phasing out in Jamaica, Children’s First emerged out of this project.
However, Children’s First sought to bring a more developmental approach to the work that was being done by Save the Children U.K. "Much of what they were doing was very welfare, with them handing out shoes, food, and I realised that you can’t be handing out fi di rest a wi life," she said. "Children’s First moved from welfare to empowering people to make changes in their lives."
Ms. Pious epitomises the image of a "woman in charge". This woman while juggling her job as a consultant for Cultural Approach Intervention in eight of the island’s prisons with the Ministry of National Security, still serves as director of Children’s First and spends time caring for the children at the institution. She says they are very understanding and "know when there is no money to buy the tissue paper, etc.". She said that the children are very involved in the decision making at the institution where they sit on the boards and help with the evaluation of the staff.
For her, the greatest thing about her work with Children’s First is the sense of achievement she feels when she sees her students go through the programme and later become successful.
Claudette Pious (left) is seen here in conversation at Children’s First with the instructors who work at the institution.
Today, one of her boys is enrolled at York University doing a degree in social work and politics. Another of her girls, Karlene Ellis, won a track and field scholarship and is now about to complete her master’s degree.
Currently, 40 per cent of the staff at Children’s First are individuals who have gone through the programme and have returned to help persons like themselves.
Gassett Myles, now 25 years old who was once a street kid, is now the barbering instructor at the institution. He praises Ms. Pious for the effort she is expending to change the lives of almost forgotten children like himself. "She come like a mother to me. She never show me a bad face and she always try fi encourage you. Mi respect her, man, and she has been so helpful to me, me nah let her down," he said as he rests his leg on his motorcycle under a tree outside in the yard of the institution. "The school do a lot for me, so me decide fi come back and share my knowledge," he said.
In the meanwhile, Stacy-Ann Lacey is now the administrative assistant at the institution. She received a scholarship and went to Jos� Marti Technical High School. She says the institution has given her a lot and it is only right that she gives back. "It is m
y duty to give back and help other young people in terms of their progression," she said. On the day of the interview, Vandrea Thompson, another of the ‘past’ students, who has returned to serve the institution, was at the University of Technology registering to pursue a degree this upcoming school year.
To many Jamaicans, Ms. Pious is simply ‘Miss Likkle’ because she was a familiar face in many plays and commercials in electronic and print media. Her entrance into the theatre came after she placed third in the Tastee talent competition in 1979 and won a scholarship to the School of Drama. This experience she treasured.
"It was really, really important in terms of my development as it allowed me to do the things I really wanted to do. It also allowed me to carve my niche out there in that from early, I saw myself as a performer."
It’s been two years since she has performed in a play; however, the theatre experience, she said, has helped to create a bond between herself and the Jamaican people. "It allowed me to position myself in the heart of the Jamaican people which for me is important."
People recognise her
She said the fact that people see her today and feel the need to get close to her makes her feel good. "People see me and recognise me and want to touch me and hug me up and pickney waan rub me down and talk to me," she said. She said that this connection is very valuable to her.
Before this though, she thought of herself as a poet where she wrote poetry and used the writing as an escape from the hardships she was experiencing in her life. "When the bad tings happen to me, me did affi find a way so me usually write bout them." She even released a compilation titled, The Poetry of Claudette Richardson in 1979.
Today, she is an inspiration to many persons because of the role she has taken in trying to improve the lives of Jamaica’s children. She describes herself as "a visionary, a mother (mother in the widest sense of the word), and the young people see me as a motivator and say if you do it, it mean me can do it to, she said."
Before she became the woman she is today, she worked as a dry cleaner and, importantly, she pointed out that she used to clean a huge church in St. Andrew because she needed the money to carry out basic tasks. This kind of past, she said, developed in her "the importance of working with poor people and creating opportunities for them".
According to her, one of the greatest challenges she faces in her work is the lack of respect for the work that Children’s First is doing. She said that even though her institution movesapproximately 60 students to the formal school system each year and watches them until fifth or sixth form, it is not recognised as an educational institution.
Imparting valuable lessons
She said that in the face of all these adversities, the institution is blessed and she attempts to impart valuable lessons to the children. She says seeing what other people achieve is a big problem for her children and she tries to instil in them the importance of not looking at people and wanting what they want because they don’t know the route they went to get it.
She said that emulation of positive persons is critical. "We show them somebody from their community who came from similar experiences and are now doing well. It’s easier for them, so there is a lot of mirroring."
"To see a man who used to sell bag juice under the bus stop who is now a teacher or going to college propels them to do well," she said.
For her, two of the most important things we as a nation can do for our children is to protect them and provide opportunities for them to develop into worthwhile human beings.
In 2005, she received a Gleaner Honour Award not only for being an excellent performer during her days on stage, but also for he deeds. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D.
Children’s First received the Press Association of Jamaica Award for Excellent Contribution to Community Development and to Street Children in Particular on November 22, 1998. The project currently caters to the needs of children through the provision of education, training and life skills support mechanisms that are essential for the health and welfare of the nation’s youth.