Trench Town, an inner-city ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, is well-known for its reggae roots, poverty, and crime. Home of reggae artist Bob Marley, the place was immortalized in his songs “Trench Town” and “No Woman No Cry.”
Children growing up in Trench Town often awaken at night to the sound of gunshots coming from warring neighborhood gangs. Sometimes houses are deliberately torched. During the day, young people often have difficulty concentrating at school. Most are hungry, and it is not uncommon for residents to die from starvation.
“Trench Town is very scary,” says Robert Taylor, a police sergeant who has worked in this area of Kingston for more than 20 years. “It’s very scary with the kind of weapons they’re firing now—especially the youth who are firing them. They’re between the ages of 14 to 25. . . . They have no respect for anything. They have no purpose . . . no projection for their lives. There is nothing that they have to live for.”
But Lurline James is changing that—one young student and family member at a time. Lurline is the principal of the Seventh-day Adventist Basic School in Trench Town. Located at the Trench Town Adventist church, the school started in 1997 as an outgrowth of a Vacation Bible School.
“Actually, the Lord led me here,” Lurline says. “I just wanted to help at the VBS, but the [Belize Mission] education director told me they wanted to start a school, and invited me to come. I told her, ‘No.’ I already had a job teaching in a good school, recognized by the Jamaican government.”
But when Lurline went home and started thinking about the possibility of having an Adventist school in Trench Town, she says that the Lord told her, “This is your job.”
Catering to Trench Town’s youngest, the Adventist Basic School offers a safe environment, socialization, and education for children ages 2 to 6. The school has grown from 23 students in 1997 to 104 in 2014.
Lurline doesn’t regret leaving her former job to come to Trench Town. “We have such an opportunity to impact the children,” she says. “We come with a Christian background, and the parents really appreciate the principles and standards that we have here.”
She remembers when a parent of one of the students died, and the child came to school very fearful. “When someone dies, the children are afraid that they will come back and haunt them,” Lurline explains. “I tell them, ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead. They’re not coming back until Jesus returns.’ ” When the children hear this, they are no longer afraid.
The Adventist school provides high- quality education and other opportunities for the students. “They are smart,” says Lurline proudly. “We got first place in the Scotia spelling bee!” The students also earned a bronze medal from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission at the cultural festival where they performed on their recorders.
As home to Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, one of the world’s fastest women, Jamaica is a land that admires the fleet-footed. The Trench Town students have been delighted to win many medals for their fast running abilities.
While watching the transformation of the students into happier and confident children is very rewarding, Lurline also considers the regular prayer breakfasts she and her staff provide for the parents to be an integral part of their ministry to the Trench Town community. “The parents come, and we have the chance to visit and pray with them. They always appreciate it.”
The school also provides lunches for the children each day. “Nutrition is one of the greatest needs here,” Lurline explains. “Even though we provide a good solid meal, the children don’t have a proper breakfast, and we have to find something to give them [before lunch].”
Nevertheless, when students leave the Adventist school, they have more than a full stomach. They have a mind eager to learn more, and a heart full of the hope and love of Jesus.
The Trench Town Seventh-day Adventist Church subsidizes three-fourths of the children’s school fees, and provides a soup kitchen for the community every Tuesday. The churchyard is always full of people.
*From an interview in the documentary, “Trench Town,” directed by James Ewart, http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/trench-town-forgotten-land/