After leaving the comfort of her business decades ago to help persons in Kingston’s inner-city communities overcome addictive disorders, Sonita Abrahams is to be rewarded with a National Honour by the Government.
“It is a very good feeling, because a lot of times this kind of work goes – not really unappreciated – but it’s not really celebrated the way it needs to be,” says Ms. Abrahams, the Executive Director of RISE Life Management for the past 27 years.
RISE Life Management is a non-governmental organisation established in Jamaica in 1987 under its former name, Addiction Alert.
The organisation, which is credited for operating Jamaica’s first outpatient treatment centre for addictive disorders, adjusted its programmes to help at-risk youth.
“I can tell you exactly when it happened,” Ms. Abrahams says, retracing the journey that led to her “calling” and, consequently, the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for which she has been recommended this year.
“It was about, maybe, 35 years ago. I went to church one morning and Father (Richard) Ho Lung was at the pulpit, and at that time there was a lot of political unrest. There was some atrocity that had gone down in the community of Rema (Wilton Gardens). He said, ‘you middle-class Jamaicans need to take a stand, you can’t just sit back and talk about it on your verandas and not do anything about it”.
Abrahams says she later approached Father Ho Lung and asked what she could do to help. This sparked a working relationship between her and the Roman Catholic priest.
“I started doing community service. I started in Rema, and then I started going into the Gun Court with him at South Camp Road,” the health worker notes.
She recalls Father Ho Lung teaching remedial education to prisoners at the correctional facility, while she would offer counselling services.
“Believe it or not, that’s when I knew this was my calling, because, honestly, I saw God in all of those men. When you listen to their stories – even if it had been that they had committed murder – and you listen to the circumstances of their life, you could understand why they were where they were,” she shares.
Abraham volunteered her services for a number of years until she decided to focus on building her private business venture. But, according to her, she was not fulfilled in her business ventures.
“I prayed about it and within a short time I got a call from an elderly English gentleman who was a recovering addict, an alcoholic himself, and he was starting the organisation called Addiction Alert.
“He was looking for somebody to come in and put the programme together. I got the job, and so I went to the directors of my business and said, ‘I am out of here. You can do anything you want with the business, but I am going to go do something else’,” she says.
Within three months of her joining the organisation, Abrahams’ boss had a relapse and she became the Executive Director.
When asked what has kept her on the job for nearly three decades, Abrahams says it is the opportunity to transform lives.
“You can have somebody who could be a medical doctor, a lawyer, and they start to gamble, and before you know it, they have gambled away their home and their family. Or, you can have a professional who gets into cocaine.
“Then you have the other side, where we work in inner-city communities and we get a lot of young people who might not be doing well at school, who have seen a family member being murdered, and we bring them in… we mentor them and we transform their lives.”
Abrahams adds that her mission is to touch one life at a time.
“We have to recognise that we are not superhuman, and so, every single human being, if we can touch one life every day, if it is a windshield wiper and he is aggressive, we can turn that aggression around by the way we react to them,” she says.
A total of 171 Jamaicans will be conferred with national honours and awards on National Heroes Day, October 16, for outstanding contribution to the country’s development.
The annual ceremony will be held on the lawns of King’s House.