In a community ravaged by gang warfare and partisan political violence, the young ones on the streets of Trench Town have scarcely anything to smile about. Theirs are the haunted eyes, the countenances of utter resignation, or the masks of toughness, an essential ingredient in the mix to assure survival. Each day they contend with myriad assaults on the senses: the sound of sirens, of rapid gunfire, or piercing wails and screams when the bullets find their mark.
Among the odours that linger are the acrid fumes from burning tires, the smell of gunpowder and the metallic stench of blood. Their panoramic views include open gutters, rotting garbage, stagnant pools of water, walls pock-marked by bullets. And they know only too well, that being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean death.
But fresh AIR is breathing new life through Trench Town, and there is a chance for the children to smile, some of them for the first time in a while. AIR is the Agency for Inner-city Renewal, the brain-child of Dr. Henley Morgan, pastor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, who was determined to take his business into this community where no non-resident dared venture. His was, and still is a step of faith, giving birth to this faith-based initiative with its compelling mission statement: “…to ignite within people a passion for righteousness, enterprise and service; save lives and sustainable livelihoods within a wholesome and harmonious environment.”
That Morgan chose to base his business in the heart of the inner city is evidence of his commitment to bringing positive change into the lives and into the bowels of a ghetto community made famous in song by its most illustrious inhabitant yet, Bob Marley.
With a population between 22,000 to 26,000 residents, Trench Town is viewed by Morgan as torn apart by “moral and social ills – political strife, crime, high unemployment and weak family structure.” Yet despite the prevailing conditions, Morgan sees the mitigating factor in the potential of its people, and is convinced that transformation is indeed possible through spiritual, social and economic upliftment. His hard-working team is as strongly committed as he is.
His move has prompted other companies to open branches in the heart of the community, with Churches Co-operative Credit Union and Moneygram opening outlets, a first for Jamaica’s inner-city communities, traditionally isolated from convenient access to financial institutions by violent politics and crime.
In addition to the business incubator concept, facilitating a number of micro-enterprises in the community, is the “Adopt An Angel” program, which aims to assist the many needy children in the community with school fees, school uniforms and books, as well as lunch money. With average daily school attendance on the decline, the “Adopt An Angel” sponsorship program will ensure that much of the promise of tomorrow is kept alive through today’s priceless gift of education.
To promote this initiative, AIR has collaborated with Florida-based JAMLINK which will coordinate the sponsorship program. Jamaicans at home and beyond its borders are being asked to help restore more smiles to the faces of the little ones of Trench Town and help them see a world beyond the one around them.