Jamaican High School Students
Move to a New Beat

Art of Living brings back sanity and peace between high school students, the government, & the HWT bus park in Jamaica

In a surprise to Jamaica, and a jerk to its pride, the Half-Way-Tree Transport Center, built with a budget of a whopping $4.3 billion, became the highlight of infamous news with high school students indulging in regular nasty fights, crime, rude behavior, sex, robberies and rampant indiscipline at the government facility.

The havoc created at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Center by the high school students then reportedly came to a sudden stop following an intervention by the Jamaican government in collaboration with The Art of Living Foundation.

The initiative by the two institutions, labeled a social intervention, was staged weeks after the Sunday Observer alerted the nation to the unruly and sometimes violent behavior of students inside the bus park. National Security Minister Peter Bunting was accompanied by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites and Dushyant Savadia from The Art of Living Foundation.

The message they wanted to convey to the students was three-fold – stay away from crime, focus on school work, and exercise discipline in conduct.

"If you drop out of school, you are six times more likely to become a gang member, and if you become a gang member, you are ten times more likely to end up in prison or dead, and we don't want that for you; we want discipline and order," National Security Minister Peter Bunting told the students. "You can be cool while having fun too. Gangs are not cool. Keep calm and avoid gangs," he added.

Savadia challenged the students to take an individual pledge to stay away from violence and to educate themselves so that they can grow up and contribute to the country. He also called on the students to start behaving positively and love their country and the people around them. "We need change, and we need to change fast, and we need to change now," he said. "What you choose to do right now will echo in your future. The choice to do the right thing right now is yours." Along with the messages, the students were treated to a flash mob as well as a brief documentary, titled Songs of Redemption, which depicted the lives of inmates at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Center.

An ex-inmate, Andrew Christian, who was featured in the documentary, warned the children to focus on their studies and stay clear of crime and violence.

"Stay off the street and listen to your parents, because where I am coming from, it is not easy. Focus on your school work and learn as much as you can," said Christian, who was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years for the possession of an illegal firearm.

According to a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) official, the students wouldn't hesitate to attack and harm adults and show no respect for authorities or the staff.

Linval Thompson, the man charged with managing the transport centre on behalf of the State-owned JUTC, said that the unruly behavior of the teenage students had the JUTC staff and police personnel assigned to keep order in the centre stretched to the limit.

"On Fridays, it was just madness," Thompson said to the Jamaica Observer. "The children came here and did not leave the park until late in the evening. They were involved in all kinds of activities. The buses that came to the centre left almost empty because of the students' refusal to board them in a timely manner,” he added.

Acknowledging the reason behind such behavior of the high school students, Education Minister Thwaites, said it highlighted the fact that the students are in need of a place where they can go and socialize and have wholesome fun.

"Young people need a place to get together," he said. "It is obvious to me that they lack places where they can have healthy entertainment. But, at the same time, it shouldn't be excessive, as that can be counter-productive, so they need guidance."

He lauded the education ministry and The Art of Living Foundation for the social intervention, noting that it was very important as it brought some amount of consciousness to what has been occurring at the centre.

A Sunday Observer reporter visited the Center the following Friday afternoon, the day when the students usually wreak the most havoc on the lower level of the Centre. Shockingly, in absolute contrast to earlier reports, the students were seen lining up to take the buses. Additionally, the usually thick crowd of rowdy students was noticeably absent.