After an extensive dry spell in Saint Lucia, the rain came down on a gathering atop a hill in Aupicon, Vieux-Fort on Thursday afternoon. But it did not dampen any spirits, rather it was received as a blessing for the new Children’s Home expected to occupy the site in the next few years. Thanks to a collaboration between the Vieux-Fort Children’s Society and the Jermain Defoe Foundation, a safe haven will be available for those in dire need. And according to society member Julia Edwin, it’s long overdue.“The children in the south need protection and find it difficult to get placement. The absence of a Children’s Home in the south leaves our children without a place of safety and a place of protection from abuse and harm. Many remain in the abusive environment and thus a cycle of abuse continues. However, the establishment of the Children’s Home in Vieux-Fort will provide a place of safety and assist parents to develop skills that will help them make choices which are more responsible and beneficial to their children. In addition, the Children’s Home intends to provide therapeutic support, employment and training opportunities.”
Since opening its doors in 2010 the Vieux-Fort Children’s Society has worked diligently to raise funds and source partners to build the home. When the Jermain Defoe Foundation launched in June 2013 and agreed to partner, it was a match made in heaven. One of the people who knew the plight and struggle of the project was society patron Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy.
“I would like to express my sincerest thanks to the Jermain Defoe Foundation for coming in and really assisting in what is undoubtedly a most worthy cause. I’m not quite sure but I may have been invited to be patron because of my position but it could have been perhaps I am from the south as well. I noticed that work has already started and I am really looking forward to the establishment of the Vieux-Fort Children’s Home.”
The day was an especially poignant one for foundation namesake Jermain Defoe, a London-born football star for Sunderland who is the offspring of a Saint Lucian mother. Defoe spent a great deal of his childhood on the island visiting relatives and, together with his family, felt the strong desire to ‘pay it forward’ to his ‘home away from home.’
“I would just like to first of all thank God because without God none of this would have been possible. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen. It started off with a dream and a vision. We sat down as a family and just spoke about giving something back. This island for me is home. I remember coming here from the age of one or two by my Nan’s house not too far away, playing football on the streets with my cousins. I just feel blessed in life. So I just sat with my family and we truly believe that we can make a difference, make a change. And that’s why we came up with the Jermain Defoe Foundation. It’s been an unbelievable and humbling experience.”
Defoe’s mother, Sandra St Helen echoed her son and encouraged others to do more than just pay lip service.
“We recognize that everything and the support network was predominantly at the other end of the island and so, with research, we realized there wasn’t much support down south. We sat down as a family and decided rather than sit down and complain and talk about it, let’s be proactive, because we can. Talk is cheap. It’s not in the talk, it’s in the walk. If you are in a position to make a difference, you should do so.”
And that they did by organizing, within three months, a gala dinner in London which raised over 100,000 pounds towards the project.
Founder and chairperson of the Vieux-Fort Children’s Society, Beverlyn John was overcome with emotion at the materialization of the longtime dream.
“I’m trying to hold back the tears. It’s been a long time, a really long time coming. We’ve worked hard and we are so pleased for the support we’ve had from so many persons. It’s a privilege to be here today to give this vote of thanks not just for the home but for the support of everybody, for believing in us and keeping the dream alive especially when there are times that we think it’s not going to work, something happens to say keep going,” John said.
The contingent performed the ceremonial sod-turning with a blessing from Dr Sonia Hinds and amid several stunning song renditions from the Laborie Girls’ School Choir.