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Darkness on the edge of paradise

Where is your love Jamaicans?

I can't see your love, I can't feel your love,

I can't touch your love

Black Wa-Da-Da (Invasion)

Burning Spear

Rushell Grey looks younger than her 21 years. She listens quietly as her friend attempts to tell her story. When the other woman breaks down in tears, Rushell lays a hand upon her shoulder until the other girl feels able to continue.

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Rushell's warmth and compassion are clearly a source of comfort, but that quiet strength hides the darkness in Rushell's own past, which at one time threatened to destroy her.

For now, Rushell listens to the other woman, whose beautiful but fragile smile does not take long to break. The tears come when she is discussing the darkest days of a young life, days which left her with an HIV positive diagnosis and destroyed her relationship with her family.

The woman - who cannot be named - is 23 and has lived with the knowledge that she is HIV positive for three years, but her nightmare started long before that, when she was just 12 years old. Today is the first time she has talked openly about it and she is finding it hard. She was sexually abused by her uncle over a period of three years. Perhaps even worse than that was rejection by her grandmother when she told her what was going on. "She defended her son," she says.

But the abuse would not remain a secret for ever. "One of my neighbours was inquisitive. She embarrassed me by blaming me for making my uncle have sex with me.

"At school I started crying and one of my friends asked me if what the neighbour said was true. I told her it was but asked her not to tell anyone. The next day my guidance counsellor said we had to report it to the police. My friend had told him."

Her family did not stand by her. When she went to court to give evidence she did so by herself. With only her word against her uncle's there was not enough evidence to convict him. "I do not consider I have a family any more," she says. "The only one I consider myself close to now is my dad."

She had an HIV test in 2011, when she was 18. Since Jamaican law does not allow under 16-year-olds to be tested without their guardian's permission, it was impossible for her to take the test when the abuse was taking place.

When the result came back, a worker at the clinic asked her how she would react if it was positive. "I told her I would kill myself. I was told to go home and a week later I went to hospital for another test. They told me then it was positive.

"For a long time after that, things were very difficult. I did not accept myself as an HIV-positive person. I did not think I could have the virus as the only person I had slept with was my uncle."

Although she obviously finds it hard to tell her story, the woman presses on. She knows it can help others in similar position. It's difficult to understand how a young girl could cope with the situation which was forced on her.

"How I coped was writing in my diary," she says. "I started writing in it every day at the age of 12. I consider my diary my best friend."

Each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and the book of rules

Book of Rules

The Heptones

The rules here are: always use a condom and always check it afterwards. This is a busy, chaotic room at a maternity clinic in Savanna-la-Mar, a Jamaican commercial town 122 miles from the capital of Kingston. Here again is Rushell, this time smiling as she lubricates a blown-up condom to show pregnant women how to protect themselves against the HIV virus.

Along the wall, pregnant women queue for their appointments. The seats are filled with more women. Rushell is one of a team of mentor mothers recruited and trained by Eve for Live, one of Unicef's partner organisations in Jamaica.

Drawing on their own experiences and their training, they give advice and practical help to other young women who are pregnant and possibly infected by HIV. A Jamaican man wanders into the room and engages those present in bawdy chat. The scene is probably not for those of a sensitive disposition, even before the large dildo is taken out for the next lesson.

The atmosphere is remarkably good-humoured, even if the message is deadly serious. Women are taught to use condoms not just to stop themselves getting pregnant but also to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Women in Jamaica are too often left to care for the children when their male partner moves on, and too often infected with HIV, sometimes by bisexual men terrified to admit their sexual preferences in a homophobic society.

Sex in Jamaica can be a complicated business. Women with no real means of support can see it as a way of meeting needs that go beyond gratification.

They call it transactional sex - relationships which can bring benefits such as food, clothes, the rent being paid - and there's a distinction between that and prostitution. It's a bargain that is widely understood but which can lead to women having many different sexual partners, with all the risks that brings.

Two of the women at the clinic agree to talk about the changes Eve for Life has brought about in their lives, on the condition that we do not use their real names. Judy says she's learning to take better care of herself. She's 24, has an eight-year-old son at home and has another baby on the way.

"Anything going in my body now is going to be washed, clean and hygienic," she says. "I have learned a lot here. Now I always use a condom because I do not know where my partner has been or what he has been doing."

Another rule laid down by Eve for Life is that if you join their programme you have to tell at least one other person that you are HIV positive. It's called disclosure and it can be difficult, although for Angelique keeping her status secret brought her more problems.

She summoned up the courage to tell the father of her first child, born two years ago when she was just 17. "I thought he would go mad," she says. In the event, he said he did not care. "I told him because it was better that I told him rather than someone else," she says.

Nevertheless the relationship did not last. Angelique said she "messed up" and fell pregnant again, by another man. This time, she did not tell her partner she was HIV positive, a decision that had harsh consequences.

When her partner found out, he threatened to kill her. His anger raged even after a blood test confirmed that he had not been infected by the virus. Angelique has now had to seek a restraining order to keep him away. Earlier this morning his family had issued more threats to Angelique. She is due to visit the police again later today, although she is not confident they will be particularly helpful.

However, Angelique has been assigned a mentor mother by Eve for Life, and can rely on her to go with her to the police station. It's support she has come to value over the past months: help with a bullying former boyfriend, reminders to take medication, a voice on the other end of the phone.

Eve for Life "mentor mom" co-ordination and advocacy officer Nadene Bigby-Swaby talks about her own experiences with disclosure. Nadene was 24 and a single mother when she discovered she was HIV positive. Her son was four. It took her seven years to find the courage to tell him. Even then, she initially told him it was his father who had been infected.

"My son was very sad and I thought to myself, 'What am I doing?' The next morning I told him the truth. He started crying and hugged me and I thought 'What have I done to my child?' But he said, 'Mummy I understand. I will get past it and you will make it.'

"From that day we have been so close ... and the relationship I have with my son is because I disclosed my status to him. Although he did say to me: 'Mummy, no more babies.'"

I'll lay on a lilo till I'm lobster red

I still feel the motion here at home in bed

I tell you it's hard for me to stay away

You ain't been till you been high in Montego Bay

Montego Bay

Bobby Bloom

In a competition for the most beautiful place on earth, Montego Bay would be a contender. On the north-west coast of Jamaica, just over 30 miles on from Savana-la-Mar, its miles of white sands and almost turquoise sea are bordered by huge hotels where tourists can stay in luxury and relax without encountering another side of Jamaica. It is a world away from the shacks and random bars which line the road on much of the drive from Kingston, and is understandably the most popular resort on the island.

We are in a beautiful garden, surrounded by multicoloured plants and lush green vegetation, sitting in a paradise listening to stories of lives spent in personal hells.

This is a team meeting of "mentor moms", part of the Eve for Life project aimed at encouraging and training young women - most of them mothers, some of them HIV positive - to help other young women in the same situation.

Here they will take part in activities designed to foster trust and team-working. They will guide blindfolded colleagues through an "obstacle course" of tables and chairs to teach them to communicate and trust instructions. They will learn what's needed to function as a team. "You are a team, not a group," Eve for Life co-founder Joy Crawford repeats again and again.

And they will talk about their lives and their troubles, because they know the power their experiences have to show others in their situation that lives can change and that HIV is not a death sentence.

Six of them have agreed to talk today: young women like Rushell Grey, and like Christina Kerr, who at 17, has already been a mother for almost two years. Forced into having sex with an older cousin - "he threatened to shoot me and burn down the house if I didn't have sex with him" - and terrified of her condition being discovered, she kept her pregnancy secret for six months before her mother found out.

Just days after her 15th birthday she started feeling pain. Being so young she did not know how far on she was, so her mother took her to the hospital. At a petrol station along the way, Christina gave birth to her daughter.

Initially Christina's father refused to have her and her child in the house, but he was later talked out of that position. Luckily, Christena tested negative for HIV, but as a "mentor mom" she works to help young girls who have been raped and are HIV positive as a result. "I have to stand strong for them."

Then there is 19-year-old Samantha Williams, who became pregnant with her son, now 18 months old, when she was still at school. She told her mother - but not until she had paid the fee which allowed her to graduate from school. "My mother said she would not have paid it if she had known I was pregnant."

It would be days before her mother talked to her again. At the time Samantha didn't know anything about the facts of life. "I thought if I stooped down [after sex] it would run out of me. I tried that. It didn't work." Not long after discovering she was pregnant Samantha also had to cope with the news she was HIV positive.

Nickeisha Black's life started to become difficult when her mother took a new lover and sent her and her two sisters away.

"I did not know how to express myself and turned to smoking and drinking when I was about 11 or 12," she says. She was groomed by an older man and raped by him two years ago, when she was 15. "When I became pregnant I wanted to talk to my mum ...but she was not there. I was on my own. I could not get along with my mother and thought she was the reason for everything that had happened to me. She was never there when I wanted to talk to her."

Danielle Finnegan, 17, is one of the luckier ones here today. Two years ago she planned her pregnancy to get out of a school she hated. Her mother and grandmother only found out when she had to go to hospital to deal with sickness but they "weren't too unhappy". As her 20-month-old son Jaheel plays on the grass, Danielle, along with all the girls who talk today, says Eve for Life has changed her for the better. "I am more respectful, I work harder and I have less of an attitude."

Babies having babies

Raising our babies

All of these young ladies

Give them thanks and praises

For the Babies

Damian Marley

Patricia Watson and Joy Crawford sit in an office in Kingston talking about the organisation they first thought about forming in 2008. Since it began operating the following year around 90 young mothers have passed through Eve for Life. Who knows how many other lives have been changed in different ways through contact with these remarkable women? Both had experience with organisations such as Hope Worldwide and the Panos Global Aids Programme when they realised that there was a desperate need for support for women and children living with HIV and AIDS.

Their commitment has so far cost them both their pension pots. "Those are blown," says Patricia. "Luckily Joy has a very good husband and he has adopted both of us."

Eve for Life, one of Unicef's partners in Jamaica, offers support on three levels. First they take young women on a voyage of self-discovery, usually at a three-day "boot camp" away from the family environment. "They need to recognise the behaviour which has taken them to this place," says Joy. "If they have been sleeping with six different men and not using condoms they need to understand why they have been doing that. If they cannot recognise how their own behaviour has led to them to it then we cannot help them to change it."

At the end of "boot camp" Eve for Life helps the young women to set their own goals. Then they face a choice: sign up to the Eve for Life programme or walk away. "People have to want to change," says Patricia. "You cannot impose change on them."

Some of the young women such as Rushell move on to become mentor moms, trained to help other girls in situations similar to those they faced themselves. They help make sure their charges take their medication and help with sexual advice and simply by being a shoulder to cry on or a source of support in the bad times.

Eve for Life also trains life coaches, usually more mature women who act as a link between the young mothers and the families they came from. The coaches can visit the families, give information about the realities of HIV and AIDS and even help defuse tensions which can spring up when family members reject HIV sufferers.

As for the disclosure rule - which means everyone tested positive for HIV who signs up for Eve for Life must disclose their status to at least one other person - this small but incredibly brave act can make a huge difference, says Joy: "One woman we helped had begun to hate herself, not because she had the virus but because she had become a liar. She had to lie about taking her medicine, about going to the clinic ... and soon she was lying about everything. She was a woman of faith and she worried about dying a liar. When she told someone she felt much better. It can be a really liberating experience."

And it brings other benefits. "A young girl told me that before she had disclosed she was no-one in her community" says Patricia. "After she had told of her HIV status, people were coming to her for advice. It made her feel a more important person."

The fight against HIV and the stigma often attached to it is made even more complicated by the abuse of women. How common is such abuse in Jamaica? "How long are your arms?" asks Joy.

There were 2756 cases of sexual abuse reported in Jamaica in 2012, 1500 of them inflicted on girls under 16. Those figures could be even higher because too often their communities refuse to believe the girls' claims.

"There is often a perception that the child is to blame or is not telling the truth," says Joy. "There is a perception about the young person ... that she is bad, that it is her fault, that she is loose or she is a liar. People think that if a child can lie about the cookie jar she can lie about being touched."

And amid all the stories we hear today - stories of abuse, early pregnancy, illness, poverty and dysfunction - there emerges a hole at the heart of these families. That hole is man-shaped.

Walking down the road

With your pistol in your waist,

Johnny you're too bad.

Johnny Too Bad

The Slickers

At Jamaica's National Gallery in downtown Kingston, a wall is dominated by Di Real Big Man, a triptych by Ebony G Patterson. ­Referencing memorial murals painted on street corners in tribute to dead gang members and featuring a sexually ambiguous male face, it is interpreted as a comment on the predicament of black masculinity in contemporary Jamaican culture.

Those Jamaican men who have become iconic figures have rarely been paragons of progressive sexual politics.

At the Bob Marley museum in Kingston, the woman guide stands in front of a picture of the Wailers and points to the bass player. "That's Aston 'Family Man' Barret," she says. "He was called Family Man because he had 40 children by different women." Whether it was supposed to be impressive or amusing, it's difficult to say. It would be interesting to know how the children felt.

Marley himself had 13 children: two of them adopted from his wife Rita's previous relationships, three with Rita and the other eight with other women.

When you hear the stories of so many Jamaican women. often abandoned by men to raise children by themselves, often abused by men close to them, you wonder what happened to the Jamaican family and in particular the Jamaican man.

Of course families all over the world break down. Men all over the world walk out on their children. But there seems to be something distinct about the situation in Jamaica. "As far back as I can recall, the family has always been an extended unit in Jamaica," says Joy Crawford. "We have never had the family consisting of mother, father and two children. That has never existed in reality.

"My own grandmother had 16 children from probably three different relationships. There is a tradition in Jamaica that if a woman gets pregnant early, the baby is sent to be cared for by another family member. To me, family and parenting in Jamaica has been by an extended family."

She wonders why many people in Jamaican society pretend otherwise. "We have also had the situation where men have always had more than one relationship, so we have brothers and sisters with different surnames."

Many people believe that even now, Jamaican men's behaviour has been shaped by slavery, abolished almost 200 years ago but continuing to lay waste to lives.

"Men's role in slavery was to breed ... not care," says Marjorie Samuels, a counsellor-psychologist with Eve for Life. "And that culture persists even though we have moved centuries on."

Marjorie has seen for herself how some men react badly to the changes Eve for Life brings about in their partners. They have blamed her for the changes they have noticed in partners who have signed up for Eve for Life programmes. She has been threatened with violence. "But the women have become so strong," she says. "They insist on no sex without condoms."

Little children little babies to feed

Oh Jah we're always in need

Show us the light

To do everything that's right

help us to fight

When the brothers, they're out of sight

Sister's Chant

Judy Mowatt

So far today, Rushell Grey has demonstrated the art of lubricating a condom, taken part in a lively training session with her fellow Eve for Life "mentor moms" and comforted a friend in tears at reliving horrific events in her past. Now she sits to tell her own story, as the afternoon sun continues to burn down on Monetego Bay.

It is a story that is hard to tell, but tell it she must if it is to have the effect she wants it to other young women in Jamaica. Now 21, Rushell was raped by her mother's lover when she was just nine years old.

Soon afterwards, she began experiencing itches and her grandmother, who was bringing her up, took her for tests. As a result, she learned that her granddaughter had been raped and was HIV positive.

Rushell's relationship with her mother was understandably strained by the rape. They talked about it only once, although it must have remained as an unspoken barrier between them. "I told her but we never talked about it again. She just left it at that," says Rushell.

Any chance of mother and child reaching a greater understanding ended when Rushell's mother died last year.

"I think my mother felt guilty about it," she says today. "She did not say so to me but after she died people she knew told me she had told them she felt guilty."

The effects of being raped on a child of nine are impossible to quantify. But at just 14, Rushell fell pregnant as a result of her first sexual experience since the abuse. She was not knowledgeable about the facts of life. Her grandmother was working much of the time and her mother was not involved with her upbringing. She spent much of the time sitting at home with her uncles, who were, she says, "useless".

When her neighbours found she was HIV positive, Rushell's life become "like hell". "It was a stigma and there was discrimination," she says. "I could not walk in some parts of my community. People in my high school knew about my status and used it as a tool against me."

When Rushell became pregnant she had been seeking comfort and friendship in church but when it became apparent she was having a baby there was something about the people's attitude there that annoyed her.

"The church people felt pity for me. They come to me and hug me ... but it was just out of pity. I didn't like it but something inside me kept pressing me to keep going to church. I think it was God. But I wanted to get rid of the whole pity thing.

"When I left school my counsellor there told me: 'If you always keep your head down you will keep bumping into things'. I decided instead to keep my head up so that people could see my face."

Better must come, they can't conquer me

Better must come one day, better must come

Better Must Come

Delroy Wilson

Their stories are harrowing, but there is also plenty of laughter and a lot of love here among the mentor moms in Montego Bay this afternoon. These are young women who could have given up but chose instead to accept the challenge laid down by Unicef and Eve for Life: they chose to stay alive and to help others make that same choice. It is Rushell who sums it up best. "I am a changed person," she says, "and now I help to change others."

ALL ABOUT EVE FOR LIFE AND UNICEF

ONE of Unicef's key partners in Jamaica, EVE For Life was founded in 2008 in response to a dire need for support to women and children living with or affected by HIV and Aids.

Women in Jamaica face the brunt of the epidemic as caregivers and breadwinners for infected husbands and children. And statistics show that women account for 42 per cent of cases in Jamaica. In the 15 to 24 age group, there are more than double the number of infected women than men.

Unicef and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games have joined forces to put childen first - saving and changing children's lives in Scotland and throughout the Commonwealth. This is the first time the Commonwealth Games has had a global charity partner.

HOW TO GIVE

The Herald and Sunday Herald Children of the Commonwealth series will run over the coming months as the Queen's Baton travels the world on its way to Scotland. As well as bringing our readers inspiring stories from key locations on the baton route, we're also raising money for UNICEF, an official charity partner of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. There are a number of different ways to donate: you can call 0800 044 5777; or you can click on unicef.org.uk/herald; or you can text 'CHILD' to 70111 to donate £3. If you prefer, there is a coupon in the Saturday Herald magazine and in the Sunday Herald. UNICEF is the world's leading children's organisation, working to save and change children's lives.

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