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The Jamaican mum with over 40 kids

MUM OF MANY: Annmarie Richards

SOME OF the most caring mothers around are not biological parents.

Jamaican Annmarie Richards is just one of the many women who has cared for and nurtured many children.

The Good Samaritan has taken scores of young people under her wing, giving them the support and care they crave to transform their troubled lives.

But, as Richards tells The Voice, she knows only too well what it feels like to need someone to lean on.

“As a schoolgirl I was known as someone whose father drank, whose mother ran away and left her, the girl whose hair had to be cut cause her father couldn’t comb it and who had to get food from the school cafeteria to survive,” the 55-year-old shares.

“’Man-head’, ‘school flour’ – all kinds of names they used to call me. If it wasn’t for my head teacher I don’t know where I would be now.”

Richards, whose story about how she rescued more than 32 children from the streets and took them into her own home, became a YouTube sensation when fundraising channel GoBoka Play featured her work with Jamaican street children in a mini-documentary.

However, the mother of many says her passion for helping abandoned and abused children, is driven by her own experience. 

AFFECTED

 “When I was seven my parents split up. My mum left and it affected my father. He started drinking and wasn’t really able to take care of us,” she recalls. As a result, her head teacher became a source of refuge for her and her three siblings. With the support of her head teacher, they had at least one hot meal a day, clothes to wear to school and a place to sleep. Still, the separation of her parents was very difficult to handle and, at age 11, she ran away to Kingston.

“It was a terrible time for me. I missed my mother and even if it was nice to visit my teacher going back to the chaos at home was hard, so when I see a child going through the same thing my receptors go home and I ask myself ‘how can I help?’”

She, however, found her way and got married. When she and her policeman husband moved to May Pen, a rural town in central Jamaica, she saw children in desperate need and felt compelled to act.

“What I saw was children who were living in appalling conditions, who had to hustle to get something to eat, because the mother not working and father is gone. They get sexually abused, beat up, and are they forced into drugs.”


ABANDONED: Richards was driven by her own experiences to help street children who had nowhere else to turn to

But it was Richards’ interaction with a 12-year-old girl, her first foster child, which urged her to launch the Kids Campus Foundation.

“This girl had been routinely raped by her father for nine years, from the age of three. Then she was forced to face the unimaginable, witnessing her father murder her sister. When she came to me she was on medication for a nervous breakdown.

PRAYED

“At the time I didn’t know how I was going to help her, but love led me. I took her in, took care of her. I prayed for her, I told her how special she was. Before you knew it she was off medication and today, 12 years later, she is a happily married woman with children.”

Other children she has nurtured have gone on to work in Jamaica’s civil service and flourished in their chosen careers.

Richards continues: “What we do is that we take children regardless. We bathe them, we comb their hair and we love them unconditionally.

“I do it because I know that if they get the opportunity to shine, they will be diamonds in the sky.”

But there have been challenges. There were those, Richards admits, who she was just not able to help. 

“There was one young man, actually a relative of mine, I did everything, but I just couldn’t get through to him. Unfortunately, he did not make it to 25.”

Richards has also had to face dire financial difficulties when she fell ill.

“We are not funded, everything we do, buying clothes and food and even paying rent for some of our young people is from money we have earned ourselves. When I fell ill we almost lost my house.”

But her passion for her children motivated her to continue. Richards was able to start a small health products business and with Goboka Play’s help, she was able to start a computer lab with her son, who himself has won a national award for his youth work.

Richards’ goal is to build a school and halfway house for those who are trying to rebuild their lives after prison.
“I have land and all I need is material to start a building. The community will provide the labour.”

She is determined, she says, to keep on making a difference.

“When we checked properly we actually had more than 40 children and young people who have passed through our home.

She added: “Some of them grew up in our house but some just needed a temporary place of refuge and a home away from home, where they can get emotional support and somebody to tell them ‘I love you.’” 

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