'PALS changed my life' - troubled teen becomes entrepreneur
With today being celebrated as Peace Day across the island, Keimo Edwards, who hails from the volatile Tivoli Gardens in west Kingston, said he is eternally grateful for the Peace and Love in Society (PALS) programme that changed his life.
While in 10th grade at the Tivoli Gardens High School, Edwards' mother was killed in the Tivoli incursion, leaving him filled with rage and treading down a self-destructing path.
"I usually drink everyday from I was like 15, 16. Me woulda just frass. I was at every party. That's how people around me were, and I didn't have a mother around me anymore to shield me. It's like all the decisions were left up to me, and me neva did a make the right one. I got involved in a lot of things," Edwards told THE STAR
But through the intervention of PALS, he turned his life around. Today, at just 22, he is employed at Scotiabank, is the proud owner of the cafeteria at the Kingston Central Police Station, and is married with a baby on the way.
"I didn't think my mother's death affected me until one day I just broke down in tears in class, realising that I didn't have a mother to go home to," he shared.
That was when his form teacher recommended he attend a PALS initiative at his school. Edwards admitted that he was initially reluctant to attend, but after meeting with PALS' general manager, Janilee Abrikian, he was captivated by her genuine passion to steer their lives on the right path.
"Ms Abrikian taught me that I have full control over my life. Not because me born poor and live inna west Kingston means me have to follow the path of west Kingston. I learnt conflict resolution skills. I still remember them to this day and these help you in a larger capacity as a leader," he shared.
Edwards left Tivoli with three Caribbean Secondary Education subjects, but with Abrikian's help, he repeated 11th grade at Penwood High, leaving with seven subjects.
While there, he implemented the leadership skills learnt through PALS. He became a prefect, president of multiple school clubs, and even started some, such as the environmental club and cadet corps.
He landed a summer internship at Scotiabank as a filing clerk, then worked his way up to being an award-winning customer service representative.
There he met his wife, and they both entered into the cafeteria business together. While humbled by his accomplishments, Edwards said it is only the beginning.
"I believe PALS is something that the government should fully fund. Me a one person weh get saved by the messages. If it wasn't for PALS, all a the opportunities wha open to me, me would a just be too ignorant fi jump at them," he shared.
Abrikian told THE STAR there are a myriad of other success stories coming out of the 21-year-old programme.
"It's what keeps me going," she shared. "Keimo was just like a sponge, understanding the concepts of problem solving, of anger management, despite the community where he was from, where there was sex at an early age, a lot of drinking and all this violence," she recalled.
PALS has developed 18 programme offerings for schools, communities, and corporate Jamaica. This year's Peace Day theme is "Simmer down! Let's talk it out."