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Jerome Cowans: Working with youth

Jerome Cowans: Working with youth

How a Queen's Young Leader went from leading change in the suburbs to the heart of government

This Jamaica Day, we celebrate the achievements of Jerome Cowans – who won the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015 – and share his inpiring story.

Raised in one of Jamaica’s most disadvantaged communities, Jerome Cowans feared he was heading in the wrong direction.

"I witnessed several acts of violence. From a very young age, I decided that I wanted to take a stand against what was happening."

Realising problems in his community stemmed from a lack of youth support, at 13 years of age, Jerome co-founded Leaders Endeavouring for Adolescent Development (LEAD). LEAD is a community project providing personal development opportunities for young people to give them a chance for a better future.

By 2014, LEAD had expanded to Columbia. Jerome had won several awards and been widely recognised by the time he won the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in 2015.

Opportunities and challenges

Becoming a Queen’s Young Leader gave Jerome access to learning and raised his profile. Over that year he also won a Chevening Scholarship to study at Birmingham University, in the UK, for an MSc in Management.

But taking up opportunities can present challenges.

First, leaving Jamaica for a year would make it difficult to maintain contact with LEAD. So, while he was away, he continued to mentor “ten Jeromes”.

“I had ten persons that I was just skyping, helping with school work.”

But then – after being so clear about his path and having spent half a life time serving his community – Jerome found himself unsure of his next move. In 2016, he described himself as “in limbo as it relates to professional wise”.

One thing he was sure of though, was that he wanted “to give back more”.

Children in the homework programme studying with helpers

Children in the homework programme studying with helpers

Giving back more

Returning to Jamaica in 2016 after his studies, Jerome was delighted to find the young people he had been mentoring were “still very much on track” running LEAD.

LEAD then merged with other groups in the community and Jerome became Vice President of the Community Development Commission (CDC) that oversees their work.

“So that helped a bit because it’s still the LEAD youth group but it’s now aligned with this registered organisation.”

Around the same time, the Jamaican government launched a new Youth Advisory Board and selected 16 youth leaders from across the island, including Jerome, for the two-year initiative.

This meant that Jerome joined the Prime Minister’s Support Unit as part of the Jamaica House Fellowship Programme – an initiative developed by the Government of Jamaica to offer exceptional Jamaicans the opportunity to work in government.

He worked on the Housing Opportunity Production and Employment (HOPE) project, mostly to provide employment for young people.

Using the resources you have

Two years on, and Jerome is still working for government and still Vice President of the CDC overseeing youth projects.

“The main thing I’m working on now in this regard is linking the community centre to a project I am managing at work.”

This project – the Youth Employment in Digital and Animation Industry (YEDAI) Project – aims to support youth employment in the digital and animation industries in Jamaica.

“It offers training and apprenticeship to thousands of under-served young people island-wide,” says Jerome.

He explains that through the YEDAI programme, more than 50 trainees from the CDC centre are learning documentation and digitisation skills, and helping the government digitise records.

“The centre also collects rent that is used to fund its Junior Cadet programme and breakfast programme for the four- to eight-year-olds,” says Jerome, adding, "I am super excited about how all of this turned out.”

Community Development Commission training session

Community Development Commission training session

Working in government

Jerome is now second in command at the HOPE office, which oversees all youth programmes in Jamaica. This has provided a variety of people and projects for him to work on.

“So I have been working with technocrats in the Ministry of Science and Technology to develop the YEDAI Programme. I was super instrumental in this. I have been working with senior technocrats from the Ministry of Health to fight vector-born diseases for this hurricane period. I have been working with the military, closer than most civilians, tackling crime and several other areas.” 

And it has presented huge responsibility.

“My boss Colonel Martin Rickman, the National Co-ordinator of the Programme went on leave and informed the Prime Minister and Cabinet I was acting on his behalf,” says Jerome. “Tremendous pressure to say the least!”

Learning from experience

Jerome has drawn on the learning he has acquired through courses and the skills he has perfected as a changemaker to create lasting change at government level. He says it is important to use the resources you have available.

“Sometimes being involved in so many things does not allow us to use the training that we get, because we are focused on the next big move. Try to use all you have learnt as an arsenal to change lives. It can be as simple as sharing the information.”