DIRECTOR of the Bureau of Gender Affairs Sharon Coburn Robinson has praised Miss World 2019 Toni-Ann Singh for committing to being a crusader for the cause of teen mothers during her one-year stint as a ‘Beauty with a Purpose’.
Singh, who returned to the island last Friday for a four-day visit after being crowned Miss World in London on December 14, had indicated that she would be continuing her efforts to ensure that adolescent mothers are given the tools to parent effectively, and to continue their education.
“I am overly ecstatic because this is something that is a top secret for some persons; like behind the scenes where some persons don’t understand how important it is that you encourage young mothers who become pregnant, because in some cases, it could be that it was a forced sexual experience, and for some it was an experiment. For some of them, it was just being frivolous as a child and so it is very important that they recover that interrupted adolescence and reintegrate,” Coburn Robinson told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
The director, who was also a teen mom, was one of several individuals on hand at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation to welcome Singh who briefly visited the facility as part of a programme of activities while in the island.
Addressing a small welcome ceremony in her honour at the foundation’s Corporate Area offices yesterday, Singh — who is also the product of a teen pregnancy — encouraged some 40 teen mothers to walk with their heads held high.
“I want you to know that you are so important, you are so loved; there is no title, there is no label, there is nothing that can hold you back, and you are capable of anything you set your mind to,” she said.
“The hope for us, and what I’m passionate about, is making sure that whatever that is and however I can help, it will be done, so, with the help of the Miss World Organization, we are going to make sure that whatever your capabilities are, we turn them into opportunities for you. We love you, we respect you, being a mother is not easy,” she told the group.
Speaking after Singh, Julia Morley, chair and owner of the Miss World Organization, encouraged the young women to strive for the best and not allow negative perceptions to hinder them.
“You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but we all have the same interest… my interest is making women know they can reach the top. You can all do that. We will help you win. There’s amazing stuff ahead; look up, don’t look down; say, ‘I’m going to be the best mother possible’,” Morley urged.
“We do care, we are here for you, it is not just words and we are coming back, not just today, to do things together,” she said, while encouraging them to use the Miss World portal to communicate their views and dreams.
Culture Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, in the meantime, lauded the performance of the centre, which was established in 1978 to help young girls who become pregnant continue their education through locations across the island.
“This programme has assisted many young girls over many years. Over the years, just over 46,000 adolescent mothers have been reintegrated into the formal education system. Many young mothers are at risk of dropping out of school a second time, and so we started the A-STREAM Programme (Advancing Secondary, Tertiary Remedial Education for Adolescent Mothers), which ensures that adolescent mothers continue their secondary education and pursue tertiary studies when there is the desire,” Grange said.
“This programme is a legacy and when you leave here you will be ready for the world, just take in everything that is being given to you, and more than anything, your inspiration is Toni-Ann Singh. To be a mother is a wonderful experience and whatever you may have seen as an obstacle, treat it as an opportunity,” she added.
The Government this weekend announced that it would be constructing a nursery at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation in Singh’s native parish of St Thomas, to be named in her honour. Singh, who toured her home parish as part of the island’s celebration of her triumph, had selected the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation location in St Thomas for her project in entering the Miss World competition.
Singh, an aspiring doctor, is the fourth Jamaican to take the Miss World title.