Children’s Advocate of Jamaica praises St John volunteers Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison has praised the St John Volunteers of Hope initiative where a corps of volunteers committed to helping orphans, vulnerable children (OVC) and their families impacted by HIV/ AIDS by providing psychosocial and educational support. The initiative is part of a multimillion dollar project funded by USAID and managed by World Learning, through which three NGO’s have received funds to support a 4 months project to positively impact OVC and their families. Speaking at a closing collaborative workshop recently held at St John National Headquarters in Kingston, Mrs Gordon Harrison congratulated St John on its 115th anniversary of outstanding service to the nation underscoring that volunteerism is truly well and alive in Jamaica. This initiative coming from outside of the state to serve this special vulnerable community is a welcome one and demonstrates what true service is all about, she said. Pointing to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health, Mrs Gordon Harrison stated that the age range between 15 -19 represents the onset of sexual expression and activity among children. She noted that children needed to be protected from all circumstances that could lead to any type of abuse. This includes sexual abuse which may result in the transfer of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Mrs Gordon Harrison lamented the disproportionate number of girls who continue to be abused by men, some of whom are afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases. Child sex exploitation and abuse, transactional sex due to economic considerations in the home, are prevalent. The level of conviction of sexual perpetrators is low. Children need proper guidance to make right choices. What is also needed is age appropriate sexual education so that children can be aware of some of the consequences of sexual activity, she said. Alison Christie Binger, Executive Director of St John Jamaica explained that the workshop series which began over the summer had been an enlightening, energising and rewarding journey for our volunteer corps. We have been using our 115th anniversary to build the capacity of our volunteers in critical areas to better serve our country especially vulnerable groups. We successfully engaged over 50 volunteers including several St John Master Trainers who are Voluntary Counselling and Testing Certified Specialists. Noting that a number of St John volunteers had already been working with OVC, she commended and thanked the entire team for wholeheartedly showing great enthusiasm for the programme, their willingness to be fully engaged and their commitment to serve. On a final note of encouragement, Mrs Gordon Harrison said, St John Jamaica Volunteers of Hope is a valuable programme. I am very confident about the sustainability of this initiative. 115 years of service is nothing to sneeze at. What better way can an organisation celebrate such a major milestone than to give back to the community through selfless service and by way of an important programme. You will certainly add significant value to the lives you will touch.