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Ujima Foundation

CAM00084~ Ten years and going strong ~

When Ujima Foundation was formed ten years ago, it had a vision to help at-risk youths in the community to get back on the right track. As the foundation marks ten years of existence, the founders and their team are happy to see that their vision is being realised. Ujima marked its tenth anniversary on January 10 as a foundation, and eight years in operating the residential therapeutic home on February 16.

The home has worked with over 250 youths at the home in one way or another in the past eight years. Many youths have achieved a complete change of lifestyle, thanks to the guidance received from Ujima.

"There have been many accomplishments along the way," said Clinical Psychologist Dr. Judith Arndell, who co-founded the home with Mental Health Therapist Dr. Julienne Augusty. "Ujima helped raise awareness and provide tools for those in need, but the establishment of the Ujima residential therapeutic facility for at-risk youths on February 16, 2007, and the establishment of Charlotte Brookson Academy of the Performance Arts in August 2012 were major objectives realised. This school was a personal goal and passion of Augusty."

For those who are unaware, the word Ujima pronounced (oo-jee-mah) represents the third of seven principles of Kwanza, meaning collective work and responsibility - to come together as individuals through collective work and responsibility to build and maintain our community. It was with this principle in mind that Arndell and Augusty formed Ujima Foundation a decade ago. "We wanted to have a facility where our youths could be treated here on the island," Arndell said.

As Arndell and Augusty both worked with at-risk youths, they had been exposed to the cry of society for help for these youths. "Troubled children are at an epidemic proportion in our society today. Our society is plagued by gang violence in the schools, aggressive and violent behaviour, armed robbery, drug and alcohol use and abuse. There is also the sexual and physical abuse of children, youths raping youths, runaways, youths with severe depression and suicidal tendencies. There is an increase in the number of delinquent youth committing murder as a result of untreated emotional/behavioural disturbances."

Arndell said the last decade of Ujima has been a combination of challenges and major strides. "It's been fantastic, exciting, rewarding and fulfilling. It is an awesome feeling to know that you have made a difference in the lives of many of our youths who are struggling emotionally and behaviourally, and to be able to provide assistance and guidance to less fortunate youths."

Its strides include organising events for teachers, youths, parent and persons working closely with at-risk youths, such as an active parenting seminar, educational symposium, Save Our Youth March and campaign, educational day and youth crime summit. There also was the LIFE project, in which over 100 youths participated in free psycho-educational evaluations that revealed their academic strengths and weaknesses. It also offered recommendations for teachers on how best to work with the academic and emotional weaknesses of the youth. "As an organisation we not only provide counselling and therapeutic care for our youths, but we also secure the funds for the purchase of glasses, ear specialist consultations and assistance in buying uniforms for underprivileged children who came to our attention," Arndell said.

The initial years of operating the residential therapeutic home were challenging, as the foundation faced difficulty securing and maintaining the subsidy from government. The home was on the brink of closure on several occasions, due to the lack of continued funding by government. The subsidy was not sufficient to fully operate the daily programme and only covered staff payment. Ujima reached out to the community and funding organisations, such as AMFO, reacted and funded the remaining operational cost for rent, food, light and water etc. "We were happy when we were able to secure steady funding from AMFO, which covered the remaining budget and allowed us to fully operate for several years until AMFO closed its office in 2013. Due to the lack of sufficient funds, we closed the 24-hour programme for a couple of months and offered a daily therapeutic programme for our children who were in the programme at that time. We later re-opened our 24-hour facility. I am happy to say that our subsidy was increased during this time and the larger part of our budget is now subsidized by government. The difference is funded by the St. Maarten Developmental Funds," Arndell said. It costs about NAf. 40,000 per month to run the home.

Admittance

The home can accommodate up to ten boys aged eight to thirteen. The overall goals of Ujima therapeutic home are to adequately diagnose and treat emotionally and behaviourally disturbed youths ages 8-18 years (males/females); provide psychological/psychiatric care to mildly disturbed youths; matriculate at-risk youths back into the society as psychologically healthy and emotionally stable individuals; decrease repetitive delinquent behaviour and criminal activity among the high risk youths; decrease adolescent incarceration; decrease truancy and school drop-out among at-risk youths, among other things.

Youths are referred to the programme through social workers or student care coordinators at schools. Families also make direct contact with Ujima for help for troubled children. Referrals are also made by foster homes as well as by organisations working with difficult youths. Youths are admitted after going through a screening process that entails a detailed emotional and behavioural assessment. Ujima requires as much information as possible about the behavioural and emotional struggles of the child.

The programme

Ujima's programme runs from six months to a year. The transformation is obtained through unconditional love and care and structured guidance of the youths in its care. Ujima works closely with families who also attend counselling sessions as part of the growth and change in youth.

All youths received a complete psychological evaluation to determine the extent of their emotional difficulties, and are officially diagnosed. Each youth has an individualized treatment plan, with long and short term goals. They receive individual therapy on a one-to-one basis as they work towards achieving their therapeutic goals.

Youths also attend psycho-educational group sessions as well as engage in process oriented group sessions, as they share and receive peer feedback. Youths also receive academic support through an after school and tutoring programme and engage in extracurricular activities, including sports such as basketball and baseball, and arts. All parents of the children at the home attend positive parenting sessions to develop and or improve on their parenting style and to learn healthy and consistent ways of dealing and managing difficult children.

Youth suspected of drug use will be required to submit for regular drug testing done in collaboration with Turning Point Foundation. Children also participate in daily devotions.

Current situation

The home is currently operating close to capacity with eight boys residing in the home and one pending admittance next week. There are also three boys attending the afternoon follow up day programme, which has a full house, with about 11 to 12 boys participating in the afternoon programme with homework guidance and individual and group counselling.

Youths in the programme praise it for its effectiveness. One youth told WEEKender that the programme is "very helpful." It teaches him how to deal with his emotions, prepares him for "the real world" and how to control his anger and solve his problems positively. Another youth said the programme has taught him how to behave and act properly when in public.

Arndell: "I believe that our programme is successful. We are able to provide a stable home environment for several of our youths, expose them to a different lifestyle and to the simple events of life that most of us take for granted, such as eating in a restaurant. Many of our youths who completed the programme have shown improvements in their behaviour and academic performance. Their parents communicate much more positively with their youths. The youths themselves show an improvement in self-esteem and self confidence."

Arndell encourages parents to spend quality time with their children and to take the time to really get to know their children's personality. "Children long to feel love and being wanted and accepted by their parents. Parents are encouraged to set structured rules and guidelines for their young children and enforce their home rules. "Do not allow the youths to have their way. Praise, hug and compliment your child and let it know how important she or he is for you."

As for future goals, Arndell would like to see Ujima expand to owning its own facility to offer structured therapeutic care to at least 20 boys.

The foundation is fuelled by a team of 12, including two volunteers (house mother, teacher, counsellor, resident monitors, bus driver and director).

The Ujima is located at Durat Road #4, St. Johns Estate. Arndell can be contacted at tel. 520-4747 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .