Bethlehem Home on High Holborn Street in downtown Kingston is a safe haven for people with special needs and disabilities in the Jamaican community. It provides housing, shelter, therapy and educational services to more than 60 residents. Bethlehem Home is overseen by Missionaries of the Poor, a Roman Catholic institution with over 600 members that serve the impoverished and homeless. The institute is currently providing humanitarian aid in Jamaica, Haiti, India, Africa and the Philippines, among other regions.
Bethlehem Home depends on financial contributions made to the organisation. While it often receives generous gifts from international entities, domestic donors and philanthropists, donations diminished during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Unfortunately, this lack of aid and the increased challenges of maintaining the home caused Bethlehem Home to be flagged during an inspection by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This was crucial because the centre could have lost its licence from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), an Executive Agency of the Government of Jamaica under the remit of the Ministry of Education, Youth. In Jamaica alone, the CPFSA is in charge of licencing for over 40 residential facilities for children. Each of these locations has to meet 29 rigorous points of criteria before acquiring approval. The CPFSA consists of caseworkers, therapists, legal representatives and other professionals.
Digicel Jamaica Foundation’s Support
With special needs support as a critical part of their work, the Digicel Jamaica Foundation felt compelled to help Bethlehem Home keep its registration from the CPFSA and to help make sure that no one gets left behind. In June 2022, Digicel Jamaica Foundation announced that it would be overhauling the kitchen, restrooms, laundry room, dormitories and exterior in two phases. Outside, new stones and gravel were placed and walls were painted with vibrant colours. Inside, modern tile was installed. Additionally, windows, doors and room dividers were fixed.
This was not the first time that the Digicel Jamaica Foundation lent a hand to Bethlehem Home. In 2014, nine participants in Digicel’s Graduate Recruitment Programme developed an idea to help citizens in Jamaica. Together, the group formed the Giving and Reflecting Internship Project (GRIP). After some deliberation, they decided to focus their efforts on Bethlehem Home. First, they raised money by designing child profile cards, which faculty bought at an Adopt-a-Child Charity Drive. Second, the team put drop boxes in Digicel offices, so employees could give away unwanted household goods that residents could use. In total, GRIP raised J$100,000 to purchase additional requested supplies and almost 300 collection box items were donated.
Digicel Jamaica Foundation’s Focus on Special Needs
The Digicel Jamaica Foundation prides itself on being the largest corporate Foundation in Jamaica to focus on special needs. One of its main functions is partnering with like-minded organisations to help all individuals live a better life. For example, in 2018, the Digicel Jamaica Foundation and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund helped almost 4,000 people acquire government support. Likewise, since 2005 the Digicel Jamaica Foundation has collaborated with the Special Education Unit of the Ministry of Education and Youth to overhaul nine special education schools. And, it has held conferences on “Overcoming Challenges to Workplace Inclusivity” and hosted panels filled with local and internationally renowned guest speakers.
In 2021 and 2022, 100% of Digicel Jamaica Foundation’s targeted special needs projects were completed. Projects included Centres of Excellence support, investment in Special Olympics Jamaica and special needs institution renovation. The first Virtual 5K run, walk or wheel for Special Needs also took place during these years, raising over US$50,000 for the Jamaica Paralympic Association’s facilities at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre.
To learn more about how the Ministry of Education and Youth helps protect children with special needs, contact the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) with your comments, questions or concerns.