Caring team at BVHS
THOSE WHO KNOW of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society (BVHS) know its charismatic chairman Kemar Saffrey.
However, Saffrey does not work alone.
He employs a small but dedicated group of young women who assist him not only in the implementation of the society’s programmes but in sourcing funds and planning events.
The WEEKEND NATION paid a visit to the office of the BVHS in the Small Business Development Centre, Fontabelle, St Michael, on Tuesday, and the women spoke about the programmes offered and why they volunteered to do what they do.
The BVHS works with those members of society labelled as vagrants and the homeless (“as not every homeless person is a vagrant,” we were told) to get them off the streets and set them up as productive members of society once again.
“We try to get them IDs (national identification cards), clothing, medical care, counselling, skills training and jobs [as part of the At The Crossroads programme],” said business development officer Latoya Wharton.
She said corporate Barbados was working with them in some cases but added it could be difficult to place someone with a company who had once been living on the street.
For Wharton, it is not about money but instead an instinctive need to help.
“People are more focused on things like cancer, but there is also a need to help vagrants, seeing they have a stigma attached to them and people belittle them. I just want to see what can be done to help them and do my part,” she said.
Cathy-Ann Gill is the director of events.
As such she is the main coordinator of the society’s feeding programmes and the successful inaugural graduation ceremony for their At The Crossroads programme, which took place on August 28 in Independence Square, The City.
She explained how they came into contact with potential clients through their feeding programmes, which take place twice a week as well as their biannual feeding programme.
“We have a big feeding programme on December 17 called Love Day In Queen’s Park, where we will also offer haircuts and counselling,” she said.
Gill said she enjoyed planning events “from scratch” and seeing them come to fruition and wanted people to know that BVHS personnel were truly about the well-being of their clients and not about personal fame. However, she said it was also a way to get out of the house.
“Honestly, it’s a way not to stay home. I’m not working otherwise right now, but if I find a job that would allow be to still volunteer here, I would do it,” she said.
Human resources manager Davvida Whitwright said working for BVHS was keeping in line with a childhood dream.
“When I was 16, I wanted to open an organization like this. Now seven years later I found this.
“I don’t see people on the street as paros or even vagrants; I see them as individuals with potential but who have made a few wrong turns in life. Therefore we should be able to help those who want to be helped out of their circumstances,” she said.
Whitwright said society should not judge others who they see on the streets behaving strangely as those same people could also be as calm and rational as anyone else and some genuinely want help.
Kimberley Drakes, the executive assistant, said her motivation for working with the society was based on being your brother’s keeper. She said no one knew what the future held.
“I always say, ‘You know where you are in life now but you don’t know where you will be in the future’, and I would like to think someone out there would help me in the same way if I needed it regardless of how I got there. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” she said.
As for the future, the WEEKEND NATION spoke to Saffrey himself, who said the organization was currently working on establishing a programme for females, as well as a facility, possibly in St Philip, which would cater to a number of needs.
“Since the graduation, women have approached me to get into the programme, which is why we are aiming for a facility which would house both men and women and provide pharmaceutical services, counselling, mentorship, housing, a library, a day nursery, dental services and mailing services.
“We also want to establish a BVHS identification card, which we think will make a significant difference in the way people see the homeless,” he said. (CA)