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Diane Phillips: Bringing Light To The Children Whose Lives Are In Darkness

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Diane Phillips

By DIANE PHILLIPS

The first time I saw Angel, her frightened eyes flashed back to some unnamed horror she had experienced. Those dark eyes, so filled with fear and terror, dominated her face, obliterating other features. Later, I would see a new Angel, growing up and out of the fear, strong, smiling, overcoming the terror that had forced officials to remove her from her home as a child.

Angel (not her real name) was one of the lucky ones. She was placed at Ranfurly Homes for Children, but hundreds of others are not so lucky. Throughout New Providence and several Family Islands, they are in children’s homes where conditions vary from loving and warm to callous cruelty by emotional neglect.

I’ve seen cases where children in a home are safer than in the home they came from and others where staff treat the child, and especially the boys, as if they caused the predicament they are in. I’ve seen cases of kindness and others where a staff member behaves as if the child is an annoyance, ignoring the reality that they are dealing with already damaged goods whose future is fragile and in their hands.

Now, Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell is vowing to create a management agreement with guidelines standardising the care and practices of all children’s homes. The same should be done for homes for the elderly. Basics must include sharing of information and resources and that means coordination between or among homes, each of which now operates in silo fashion.

Such a management plan can’t come soon enough for Alexandra Maillis-Lynch who has dedicated ten years of her life to Ranfurly.

Her top priority – psychological counselling for every child placed in a home. Every young boy or girl in a children’s home is there because they have suffered. They have been a victim of a home environment in which they have either been sexually assaulted, beaten, neglected or their safety otherwise threatened. They are then plucked from whatever they knew as a home and, emotionally damaged, placed somewhere with a roof over their heads, a new routine, strangers around them.

Often, they believe that whatever went wrong was their fault. A parent turned violent or a drug habit worsened because they were “bad”.

Maillis-Lynch spends untold hours and energy raising funds to ensure every child at Ranfurly gets private counselling. It’s an expensive undertaking. It costs about $16,000-$20,000 per child per year at Ranfurly, which receives less from government per child than any other children’s home and is forced to raise funds privately.

One of Maillis-Lynch’s suggestions is to incentivise Bahamians to train as counsellors within the Department of Social Services, enabling every child in a children’s home access to mental help and encouragement. Noting it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, she points to a 103-page document prepared and used by British authorities setting out standardised practices and guidelines. Bahamianise it and go with that, she says. And eradicate a culture that says the only thing that matters in upbringing is blood.

As for Angel, she is a miracle survivor thanks in no small part to the counselling, love and care she received at Ranfurly. She graduated from high school with excellent grades, has gone on to the University of The Bahamas, works in the summer, participates in the Defence Force Rangers programme and helps in community efforts.

Angel is exactly what Frankie Campbell referred to when he was making the rounds of children’s homes this week. “At the end of the day…the bottom line is that we are going to see these children again. If the impact (we have had on them) is positive, we will see them again in a positive light.”

Just like Angel, from terrified victim to promising young woman, giving back to the community already just as she was given a chance at a wholesome life.

A slice of heaven . . .

As a former travel writer and in-flight magazine editor, I lived by a few rules. Don’t accept gifts (unless it involves a massage at a spa, c’mon, no one’s perfect) and never use the word paradise unless you just can’t help it. So now I can’t help it.

My husband and I escaped for three days to what’s quickly becoming our favourite island, Eleuthera, though there is no water like the Exuma cays, no people like those of Cat Island and no breeze like that in Long Island.

Anyhow, there’s a magic about Eleuthera. We stayed right on the beach in an adorable cottage, one of three called Bird of Paradise, near Tippy’s in Governor’s Harbour. Waking up to a million dollar view, walking the beach, swimming in the ‘Lucayan Sea’, dipping into the sweet, private infinity pool, going with friends to Lighthouse Point down that long drive peppered with potholes and ruts and hiking up to the top to gasp in awe at the most breathtaking view in all The Bahamas. Then, later in the afternoon discovering the tranquility of Cape Eleuthera where we had a super meal. On other days laughing as we sat under the big woman’s tongue tree watching a cat-and-chicken game while lingering over a fresh conch salad and cracked conch lunch or on another day, discovering the two-table retreat at Bacchus with one of the best Mediterranean salads we have ever had, we truly understood why the word paradise should be reserved for places and moments like this.

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