Jamaica – 6 June 2018

The benefits of sports for young people’s development

At the SOS Children's Village Barrett Town, Jamaica, tennis has become a way of life. Garfield James, a dedicated young caregiver, shares how tennis has led to visible positive changes in the young people he cares for.

Garfield James, 24, joined the SOS Children’s Village Barrett Town in Montego Bay as a caregiver over three years ago. He lives with six young men between the ages of 15 and 18, providing care, counsel and support in their everyday life.

Garfield is the only the only male caregiver in an SOS family in Jamaica right now, he is also the first man in this position since SOS Children’s Villages Jamaica opened its doors nearly fifty years ago.

When Garfield first took on this role, he realised that there were certain challenges the children faced. Sometimes they had difficulties resolving conflicts and even reacted violently in certain situations. Over the years, he has been able to improve the interaction in the house.

“You have to be there for them,” Garfield says. “You’re in the house as a caregiver and as a mediator within conflicts.”

Over time, he has been able to establish a level of trust with the boys, and they know that they can talk to him about things that concern them, Garfield adds.

“You can’t take things too personally,” he explains. “Dealing with children requires a lot of serenity and a good attitude.”

Tennis as a tool for growth

When the boys have a bad day and the ‘communication is off’, Garfield takes them down to the tennis court at the SOS Children’s Village Barrett Town. Although the court is not in perfect condition, partly due to the frequent rain on the Caribbean island, the court has become an important meeting point for the young people in the SOS families.

But tennis is more than entertainment for the children in the village. It has become a tool to promote their well-being, offering the children the opportunity of a healthy activity that channels their energy, gives them discipline and cultivates all the benefits of sports in a child, such as improvement in concentration, learning capacity and emotional balance.

Tennis has become an important part of the lives of young people at the SOS Children's Village Barrett Town.

 

By now, tennis has really become a way of life for the children. The positive impact has been visible.

“We’ve noticed a direct improvement in their grades since they started playing tennis regularly. It gives them discipline and motivation,” says SOS social worker, Tanesha Anglin.

The children have even started playing in local tournaments, a few of them are even national champions, and recently two went abroad to play in a championship. 

“The truth is, we never imagined it would reach this level, but we do what we can to keep them encouraged,” says Nadine Williams, National Director at SOS Children’s Villages Jamaica. “The results have been so positive – academically, in their behaviour, and with their emotional health. Now we want to replicate this at SOS Children’s Villages Stony Hill in Kingston Town.”

Bonding through sports

Garfield only learned to play tennis when he first arrived at the SOS Children’s Village. He realised that it would help create a stronger bond with the children. Today, he joins the teenagers in the tennis games.

Garfield joins the young people on the tennis court which has become and important meeting point for them.

 

Garfield sees his fairly young age as an advantage in his work with the teenagers. Being only a few years older than some of the boys allows him to interact with them on the same level.

His own life experience also makes him more understanding of the challenges the young people in his care have to cope with. Garfield lost his mother when he was seven years old and remembers quite well how difficult that period of his life was.

Although Garfield never thought that he would be a caregiver one day, he says that he loves his job.

“I see purpose. Being here and being able to have an impact on the young men and the children in the organisation is a privilege. Playing tennis with them, having dinner together and just enjoying each other’s company make the journey worthwhile.”

 

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