Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 and back for a brief visit....

The beginning of a new year, a new government for Jamaica, and a brief visit in Kingston. It is delightful to be back and experience the familiar sounds and sights, and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of friends who are generously sharing their home with me whilst I am here.

There is a sense of hope emerging from the election, an election that was the most peaceful ever experienced. The country has a sense of pride in its maturity as it celebrates 50 years of independence and the level of crime has reduced significantly. There are huge challenges to face as the level of poverty continues to increase and the economy is in dire straits however there seems to be a willingness to explore solutions that will use the best ideas from all.

It is truly encouraging to see that hope is rising, that people are feeling a sense that they may be able to influence things and wrest the country back from the corruption and crime of recent decades. There is a very long way to go and much to struggle through but perhaps Jamaica can inch closer to unleashing the unlimited potential and achieving the promise that is here.

In visiting I am learning that Jamaica requires a full commitment. To be here and to be useful is to be here as a full participant, this was the opportunity I had during the time I was here with DRF. Jamaica absorbs ones full attention so it is bitter sweet to visit! I am no longer a contributing participant to this vibrant and engaging place, though wish I might be so again.

With this I wish Jamaica a new year that brings more peace and better lives for all. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last post from 5 Old Church Road

This final week has been full and wonderful. I have been as busy as ever with work and also had time to say many goodbyes. This post is the last one I will write from my apartment on Old Church Road in Kingston. I hope it will not be the last post I write from Jamaica as the week has shown that there is still much to which I could contribute and many connections which will last beyond this Jamaican adventure.
Work-wise I seem to have managed a little of almost everything I have been involved in and, in the main, I am left with a feeling of gratification.

A hastily planned meeting on Monday confirmed the confidence the Ministry of Education has in the Youth Programme and I was left with the strong impression that they will institutionalise the programme and provide long-term funding as part of their student support system. Given this was one of the primary goals for my placement at DRF it is gratifying to feel it may well have been accomplished despite funding cutbacks at the MOE. I have one more task - to write the Terms of Reference for the School Suspension Intervention Programme Management Committee, the group that will be charged with managing the partnership between DRF and MOE and to develop the long term plan for the partnership. Goal #1 achieved!

Mid-week I provided implementation training for the teams that will be implementing the first seven Parents' Places. It was an exhilarating day. The teams came ready to work and by the end of the day it was evident that the concept to which I was first introduced in November will actually be on the ground within the next five months. Introducing the implementation framework has been a truly facilitating catalyst that has enabled the creators of the concept to talk to funders and providers in terms that clearly provide for a sustainable roll out. There continues to be development for the national roll out and I am looking forward to continuing to be available at least electronically, and perhaps even for the occasional consultation on-site! Parents' Places across the island have tremendous potential to provide support for parents of children of all ages and will be tailored to meet the needs of the particular communities in which they are operating.

Yesterday I went to the Eastern Peace Centre to see the progress there. It was a bitter/sweet visit as I heard that ten of the youth from the programme are now in vocational training programmes and four are headed back to school. All have got their TRN numbers (needed to get employment) and several are helping with the improvement of the Eastern Peace Centre. One however has not succeeded. He visited a couple of weeks ago and talked about his frustration in not being able to find a job. Last week he was engaged in an altercation in which he was stabbed, he then retrieved the knife and stabbed his assailant who died later in hospital. How often we tell the youth and the students that there is no such thing as a defensive weapon, that if weapons are used someone will likely be killed. This is the stark reality of the lives of too many youth here. One heated moment and life is changed forever. My heart goes out to the young, he had such simple ambitions centred on providing for his seven year old daughter. The young man is twenty.

More positively the project at the Eastern Peace Centre has led to the involvement of an established private business man and there is activity at the centre to improve the facility and develop a couple of small businesses which will provide employment within the community. The plans are achievable and the support is there as long as those involved keep focused. I have committed to helping in anyway I can through electronic communication. My proposal writing days may not be over!

I had a glorious day on Thursday as I drove out to Spanish Town to pick up a friend, the woman responsible for connecting with the women in Riverton for whom some funds were raised last December. Having picked her up we drove to her home in country, winding our way deep into Clarendon Parish climbing into the mountains. As we drove higher there were breath-taking views out over the Portmore Bight to the Caribbean Sea. The air was fresh with a cooling breeze that took the harshness of the heat out of the blazing sun. Her home is very modest with no runnning water and only brief access to electricity. Everything must be carried up the steep path to the house but once there it is a haven of peace and tranquility. We stopped a number of times on the journey; at the little shop to get water, in the village to catch up the local news, at the local primary school to talk to the principal and say hello to two of her grandchildren. At each stop there was leisurely exchange of greetings and news, no-one hurried and there was a marked concern for each other with inquiries about those who were struggling, whether the funeral planned last week had been as it should, if the child with the cast on his leg was managing well enough. I was invited in and enjoyed the privilege of being treated as one of the community. By the end of the visit I had met many people, received mangoes, oranges, grapefruit, cashew fruit, and many blessings. Country in Jamaica is a different life from city, it too has great hardships for most but the pervasive fear of violence is absent in most of the deep country communities and the gangs and powerbrokering do not play the part they do in the urban communities.
The mint tea was fresh and refreshing and the few hours atop the mountain, looking out over the many peaks and valleys to the sea, was restorative.

The weekend was spent in Barbados with my brother and his family and my nephew from England. What a contrast to life here! It was a delightful weekend spent mainly sailing in the Mount Gay Regatta, being invited into a very different life-style than the one in Clarendon, but no less welcoming and warm. The generosity of the Captain, and his family was lovely and the days spent with my brother delightful. A wise decision even though I couldn't get the super cheap flights "due to poltical and regulatory reasons"!

And tomorrow this remarkable journey ends. I will leave here taking with me so much more than I came with. It has been a journey full of lessons and learning, of meeting incredible people, of gaining an understanding of so many things for which I did not have a great enough appreciation. I will miss my life here, I will miss many of the people with whom I have found friendship and common purpose but will take with me the lasting relationships that are forged through sharing time, purpose and challenges. I cannot offer enough thanks to all who have been part of this journey and will be forever grateful for all it has given me. Nuff respec and walk good...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Report writing and reflection, concluding my work here.

It has been a week of reflection but also a week in which new things have been started. Much of the week was spent at the Peace Centre, pulling together reports on my work in progress so that it can continue without interruption but I also spent two days working with the group of people who will implement Parents' Places, bringing them another step closer to realisation. The week provided a reminder that Jamaica is subject to the vagaries of nature as an earthquake shook many awake at 4:30 one morning.

Writing the final report for CUSO-VSO provided the opportunity for me to reflect on all that I have had the privilege of being involved in whilst here. The scope of activities has been broad and the number of people with whom I have had the opportunity to work has been large. From community-based initiatives to system-wide processes and from meetings with Ministers to working with youth, the opportunities have been far reaching. The report writing has served to remind me how many dedicate their work and how much effort is being put into improving the situation for those who are vulnerable. So many people are committed to making things different. The efforts are many and varied. I have been extremely fortunate to be invited to participate in so much and learn so much about this remarkable country.
The work people do is not easy and it is made more difficult by the lack of leadership from the government. As the country moves into an election year there is much discussion about the broken political system and ineffective bureaucracy. These are arenas in which it is acknowledged that change is urgently required but it would be naive to think that an easy task.

However, despite the barriers, there are changes and with concerted effort and a lot of creativity, pockets of change occur and improvements are made. I think Parents' Places will be one of the initiatives that will have the potential to create change. Not only because a network of community based parent resource centres, with information, support and parenting education has the potential to improve parenting practices, undoubtedly an important goal, but also because of the nature of the proposed network. A network of many small resource centres, each reliant on their own resources and supported by a structure that is aligned to support the community ownership of the centres has the potential to engage many and forge new relationships. The process so far has shown that people are willing to commit their time despite the absence of the National Parenting Support Commission, which the government has yet to create despite three years of commitment, planning and funding. The group working now has decided to move ahead and support the implementation of the first Parents' Places, rather than wait any longer. It will require considerable work but the individuals and their organisations have committed the time and the work has started. We spent 2 days this week working together to create a realistic implementation process given the limitations. It was a remarkable two days, in which the concepts and tools of implementation planning were taken, integrated and applied not only to the task at hand but also to other initiatives these individuals are involved in. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with people here!

With the Easter holiday over students are back at school and exams are starting. This leads to a drop in the number of students at the suspension programme and also demands much negotiation with schools to allow those who are suspended to take exams. It is interesting to see the difference in attitudes amongst schools, some that make every effort to enable the students to take the exams and others that are willing to jeopardise the entire school year for a student by lack of compromise and support. There is much discussion with the students to help them understand the part they have played in jeopardising their school year however, there is too much at stake should they miss their exams and the Youth Peace Facilitators do everything they can to ensure the students sit the exams.

Early Wednesday morning brought my first experience of an earthquake of some significance. At 4:30 as I was waking there was rumbling and the apartment building shook noticeably, moving my bed across the floor several inches. There have been 2 other tremors in the time I have been here but barely noticeable. This one however was of quite a different nature! It was brief and did not cause damage but in the 10 seconds of the event I was prompted to think about the best way out of the apartment, no mean task given grilles and locks for security, and whether I should leave. Luckily that was the extent of it and I was not challenged any further, but it was a strong reminder of the fact that in addition to other challenges, Jamaica, as many of the Caribbean Islands, faces a much higher incident of natural disasters than most places in the world. However, on these perfect and glorious mornings with blue skies, cumulus clouds and seemingly endless sunshine the potential of earthquakes and hurricanes seems very far away.

The week ahead will be one of goodbyes and conclusions, but will also include a brief trip to Barbados as I take advantage of proximity and cheap airfares to go and see the Bajan Brown's and visiting nephew from England. How appropriate that at the end of my time in this country of dichotomies my week will include one, the sadness of saying goodbye here and the joy of seeing family close by. I will then return after the weekend and have two days to pack up and leave and will be back in Toronto on May 19th. My next post will likely not be next Sunday but a few days later and it will be the last one from In Jamaica, for now!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Long weekend, long week.

Easter weekend provided some much needed time to do final planning for the conference but also to take a day of respite. Although the week was then "short" it did not seem so with two days to get everything in place and then the conference for 3 days. The week ended with party time in Jamaica as J'ouvert is celebrated with street parties, parades and paint.

Having worked hard at ongoing conference preparations I decided Sunday as a day to take off and go adventuring. In the company of friends we set off with a map, sunscreen and a desire to find a quiet beach. Kingston is not a "beach" city and it is necessary to travel a little way to enjoy the Caribbean dream of sun, sand and turquoise sea. Typically I have travelled east to experience south coast beaches within a reasonable distance, this time we decided west would offer a new adventure, and we were not disappointed. With the navigator directing we headed out and left the major road as we entered Clarendon. Our route took us through Salt River in which we discovered an amazing mineral bath tucked behind mangrove trees. It was busy with families and swimmers and the cook houses and shops that surrounded it were getting ready to do brisk business. After a brief stop and chat with others enjoying a relaxing Sunday we carried on west and south toward the place indicated on the map as a beach - Jackson Point. The landscape changed as we drove as the place we had decided to find is at the base of the Portmore Bight, an unique swamp land on a peninsula that stretches south. Mangrove swamps with stunted trees, dense bushes and apparently many crocodiles. At the end of the road which was relatively reasonable, and past a few houses and farms we found the beach, which was nothing less than spectacular. A vast stretch of curving white sand, pristine and without litter or washed up garbage, the sea showing off the incredible colours of the Caribbean, with sandy bottom and a gradual grade that was perfect for swimming. There were no palms, but the bleached silver skeletons of trees washed up as a result of hurricanes. A constant breeze reduced the intensity of the sun and heat which though delightful, has the inherent risk of creating the illusion that the sun is not going to burn!
The day was glorious and restorative in preparation for the upcoming conference.

The conference was a success, though I think the cost both in staff morale and financially may prove to reduce the sense of success. Attendance was moderately greater than we had thought it would be at the beginning of the week ensuring that sessions were well attended. There were some wonderful contributions starting with the key note address that opened the conference. Justice Kokaram, Trinidad, spoke of the importance of ADR, the social implications of continuing down an adversarial path and energised everyone to engage and participate actively not only in the conference but in creating change across the Caribbean. The partnership with the Chartered Institute of Arbitration brought excellent contributions and enabled over 60 people to engage in arbitration training, and the development of Restorative Justice was positioned in a cultural context by Professor John Faris, University of South Africa.
The most challenging but in some ways most gratifying day for me was the day in which 300 youth from volatile communities attended. They brought with them an energy and the picture of another face of Jamaica, that was interesting and educational for all who attended. They did not attend without incident as might have been expected. There was a distinct aroma of ganja from the men's room during the lunch break, and tension between a crew from Spanish Town and a crew from Rose Town that prompted security to call the police. The advent of two police officers in flack jackets and toting very large automatic weapons certainly added a dimension that, though familiar in certain urban environments in Jamaica, was new to many at the conference. All was resolved without incident and the Inspector and police officers invited to see the session in which the youth were participating. Their experience was that 300 (or perhaps 294) youth were actively and positively engaged, manageable and productive, youth who they would typically be rounding up off the street corners. The day at the conference was a great contribution to the 'Young Man Nuh Linga' project.

J'ouvert is the celebration of the dawning of a new day and has been part of the Caribbean carnival celebration for centuries. The street parades and parties start late in the evening and continue through dawn as the "jour ouvert" is celebrated. There are bands and parties throughout, and in a city in which wandering through the streets until dawn may usually be ill-advised J'ouvert provides the best of Caribbean street celebrations! Bands and music at decibels guaranteed to damage ones hearing, throngs of people of all ages, colours and nationalities, and the requisite "painting"! One of the traditions of J'ouvert is that one gets covered in paint by people moving through the crowds. The origin of this is thought to be from the days of slavery when participants needed to disguise themselves as slaves were not permitted to join large gatherings. Several of the international presenters ventured out to explore the celebrations and apparently enjoyed dawn on the streets and will treasure paint covered t-shirts as a memento of partying in Kingston!

With the conference over and May arrived my focus is on completing and transferring my work here. I am sure it is going to be a difficult three weeks despite the prospect of exciting opportunities ahead. Kingston, the people and the work here have unquestionably captivated me. Part of the task of the next three weeks will be ensuring this is not a conclusive goodbye, but the beginning of a different and continuing involvement with those at risk from the more difficult facets of life in Jamaica.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conference, curfew and caches

This week was a short week and had a holiday feel to it as schools closed mid-week for the Easter Break. Work included daily focus on re-jigging (a term apparently not typically used here!) the conference, sorting out how to bring youth to the conference when their community is under curfew and the first meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places.

The 5th Caribbean Conference continues to dominate my work and final changes were completed this week. The numbers are somewhat smaller than had been hoped for but with some re-organising the conference should not only provide many stimulating presentations and discussions but should also break even financially. With presenters and participants from South Africa, Trinidad, Barbados, Haiti, Guyana, St Lucia, North America and Jamaica the scope and international applications of ADR should well illustrated.

One of the challenges that emerged for the conference planning this week is how to include 100 youth who are scheduled to attend Day Two when their community is under curfew. The youth day of the conference is bringing together 300 youth from 10 volatile communities. It is part of a year-long project, "Young Man Nuh Linga", that DRF has been involved with funded by Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Japanese funding to reduce violence(JSIF/JAVA). The project has focused on "unattached youth" or "corner youth", terms applied to young men who are not in school or do not have legitimate employment and gather on the "corners" in the poorest communities. They can project a somewhat menacing aura and are frequently connected to loosely formed gangs with access to guns. In Rose Town the police recently put a curfew in place as the violence and gang activity had flared. This is one of the communities from which the youth are scheduled to attend so, added to the challenge of organising score of youth unaccustomed to being organised is the difficulty of getting them through the curfew barriers. This will be no mean task as the police will see many of the youth as those that they associate with the threat. In addition a significant cache of arms was recently discovered in the community and the consequence of this is yet uncertain.

The last working day of the week brought the happy occurrence of the delivery of the cheque from the Ministry of Education, 2 months late but better late than never! This provides the funding for the youth programme until July 31st and the foundation for discussion of continued funding. It has taken more time and there have been more barriers than I anticipated but I think the extension of the programme for over a year and the indication that the Ministry will fund it suggests I have achieved one of the primary goals of my placement at DRF. The programme offers a tremendous option for the increasing numbers of students being suspended from school as well as having a broader influence that offers education and modelling for a changing attitude towards youth and discipline. Being "seen and not heard", the dominant approach to children, is a short-sighted and risky approach to the largest population cohort in the country. They intend to be heard and it will be essential that they are given legitimate and productive channels through which to be heard.

The inaugural meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places met this week. Seven committed individuals have come together to learn about and then support the implementation of the first Parents' Places. The applications are available for review, the process sketched out and the first intentional implementation process is being tested. Support for them will come from Parenting Partners Caribbean and the Ministry of Education has accepted that it is the logical ministry in which to ground the network of parent support resource centres. It feels very exciting to have contributed to moving this project from concept to reality and I am hopeful this will be a sustainable endeavour. I also hope I can continue to contribute with the help of Skype and perhaps the occasional return visit!

Easter Sunday morning finds me back at my apartment and enjoying a very quiet weekend in the city. Being uncertain as to what the demands might have been for conference preparation (there are only 2 working days left before the event) I chose not to make plans to go away. The city is delightful on a long weekend as it is quiet, a rare occurrence here! In a place where the weather is relatively constant this weekend has provided picture perfect Caribbean weather - endless sun, a gentle breeze in the middle of the day, glorious sunsets and warm nights. The day may yet see me find a beach for some relaxation!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Press, Parliament and conference count-down.

Another sunny Sunday morning and once again in the garden. The week has included a press launch, the resumption of Parliament, the conference, the ongoing work to support Eastern Peace Centre, the youth programme as well as a brush with bureaucracy and another volunteer farewell.

House-sitting has had the added pleasure of the company of the long-time family help from Mo-bay who came to stay for the week to take care of things during the day. Having someone stay at the house promoted me to think of a bill board past which I walk daily. It is an advertisement for a security firm and states "you are never alone". How true that is for most in Jamaica. Solitary time is something rarely experienced as always there is family or household support at home, engagement from those sharing the street if one is walking or driving, and the concern for ones safety and well being that prompts advice or instructions if walking or travelling alone. Sharing space is done with ease and comfort and seems to require little effort.

On Wednesday the Press Launch for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution was held at the Mona School of Business, UWI. It was quite well attended and promoted both a piece in the Gleaner and radio interviews about DRF, alternative dispute resolution and the conference. As we are still struggling to register the required number of participants it is hoped that the coverage will generate some activity. By the end of the week I had re-jigged the budget and the anticipated number of attendees and found a way for the conference to break even but it will require a concerted effort over the next ten days!The press conference was strategically timed to avoid competing with the opening of parliament on Thursday and we were fortunate to achieve the coverage we wanted.

Parliament opened with great pomp and ceremony. With Guards of Honour in full dress uniform, a display of wonderful hats and outfits and much tradition, it was an elegant spectacle. The parliamentarians have received a considerable amount of criticism for their behaviour and language in the House debates and there is hope that they will act with more decorum during this session. Some things seems to be consistent regardless of country and culture! The session will be interesting as it is the beginning of the positioning for the next election and there is interest to see if the tribal politics and the relationship with the gangs will demonstrate itself differently in the next election given the changes experienced through the incursion in Tivoli.

Things have been busy at the youth programme with the number of students being suspended increasing once again. The opportunity to meet with parents as they bring their children to the programme is invaluable and, as everywhere, there is a range in the capacity of parenting skills. On Friday I was confronted with a very difficult situation, a well-educated, well-spoken parent who when asked could not find a single positive attribute about his son, and repeatedly reminded us he was a teacher and knew about development and behaviour. The level of control he maintained, even of this brief interview was quite disturbing. The son was clearly trying to engage and ask for help, something his father was clearly reluctant to allow him to do. There are so few resources here to help parents and children work through the difficult tasks of parenting in this challenging society and this exchange once again illustrated for me the enormous value that parenting support and education could provide. Parenting can be be difficult in the most peaceful and stable societies, in a society in as much turmoil and with as many contradictions as this one it is even more challenging.

Friday brought a visit to Eastern Peace Centre from a major Jamaican business man and a representative of the International Development Bank. The visit was initiated by a young woman here on a Fulbright scholarship who has regularly visited the centre in the last few months. The potential of the facility and the role it could play in the community seemed to be appreciated by these visitors and I am hopeful that if we can provide them with a clear vision and set of ambitions for the centre and possible programmes there may well be support provided. Setting up a web of linkages and pursuing every opportunity is critical. The visit has added another, but very welcome task, to my list of things to complete before I leave in the middle of May!

My brush with Jamaican bureaucracy has not yet arrived at a resolution but I am hopeful it will do so early in the week. The bureaucratic processes in Jamaica are infamous for the slow pace, intransigent control, the lack of logic and value and the complete inability to circumvent it if one is not in an influential or powerful position. In fairness, having dealt with immigration, work permits, customs, banks and utilities I have not had any difficulties until this week. But getting a package into the country is looking like quite a challenge. It is a package of minimal monetary value, a package of tokens for me to leave when I say goodbye however neither its low value or insignificance in terms of importance seems to carry any sway. The bureaucracy requires me to have Tax Registration Number and I don't have one! I am working on the alternatives but the officials with whom I am working could be commended for their steadfast and unshakable commitment to the rules, there is no help being offered from that quarter!

From mid-April to mid-may three volunteers will be leaving. The dinner to thank and celebrate the most recent returnee was at lovely group of restaurants, The Marketplace, in Kingston. It was a good evening with warmth and appreciation in abundance. It is remarkable to see the wealth of experience that these events bring together as all the current CUSO-VSO volunteers are present, and just how many people commit their time and expertise to international development.

Having had a hectic week yesterday I decided to take an evening trip to Port Royal to watch the sunset and relax in the quiet of the small sleepy town at the end of the Pallisadoes. Port Royal was known as the "wickedest and most sinful city in the world" before 1692 when much of it ended up underwater as a result of a major earthquake, an event often cited as God's retribution for the sinners. From a local waterside restaurant one can look north back over Kingston Harbour to the city and the mountains. The sun sets behind the majesty of the layers and layers of mountains which are usually adorned with clouds that change colour in the deepening dusk. It is a peaceful way to end the day and an easy drive to find some quiet close to this constantly noisy city.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the garden

The end of another week and time is going much too quickly. This week has been focused on the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution. In addition some time with UNICEF as they gather input to inform their next 5 year country plan and facilitating the ongoing work for the Building Organisational Capacity at DRF.

The 5th Caribbean Conference has continued as a source of increasing concern as the planning and promoting continues to have a level of disorganisation that is somewhat debilitating. Slowly but surely the number of registered participants is increasing and the media promotion is also planned for much activity in the upcoming week. For a stretched and struggling NGO to add to its responsibilities the planning, funding and hosting of a 3 day international conference was very ambitious. However, there is no question that it is this level of ambition and drive that has led to the success of DRF over the 16 years of its development. The passion and commitment for promoting and practising alternative dispute resolution in a country in which "resolution" of disputes has typically assumed one of two methods - escalation to violence within moments with dire consequences, or court action which takes years to achieve settlement - is truly commendable and the influence DRF has had is remarkable.

Over the last 16 years mediation and arbitration services have expanded enormously; legislation has been passed that requires all civil matters that go to the Supreme Court be diverted to mediation before being addressed in court; restorative processes and practices are being implemented in communities across the nation with the support of the Ministry of Justice; schools and communities have adopted conflict resolution education and mediation for youth; and much of this movement can be attributed to the tireless activity of the DRF and its founding Board and CEO as they have engaged partners, trained practitioners and never shied away from ambitious plans!

This year is the transition year for many international development funding agencies. The many and various branches of UN development activity, UNICEF, UN Women, UNDP and others, operate on five year funding cycles. The objectives and goals of the upcoming five years for each, country and region are developed in partnership with the governments and NGOs of the country being funded. It is an extensive planning process that is challenging when funding is diminishing and needs increasing. Narrowing the focus to one or two key areas of focus, and then developing objectives and measurable indicators takes time and a great deal of effective facilitating. It is not easy to determine what will be the key areas that may drive the most effective change processes but it is interesting and stimulating to be included in the discussions. This process will continue for another month or so and then the next round of refinement will start.

My other area of activity this week has been the DRF/CUSO-VSO five year partnership project in which all the volunteers at DRF are involved. It is time for me to pass over leadership of the process to another volunteer and in doing so help develop the next steps. The Advisory Group had a very productive discussion this week, and through reviewing activities to date recognised that there have been some significant accomplishments achieved which have laid a solid foundation for the next set of actions. There are some clear directions and areas for the next steps and some enthusiasm from both staff and volunteers to take on the changes. The process remains a source of interest for CUSO-VSO as it demonstrates a new approach to capacity building. Instead of sending an individual volunteer into an organisation focused on a single area this project has engaged a group of volunteers in one organisation and approached capacity building by developing an integrated plan working on multiple areas at one time. Over the five years the expertise of the volunteers will reflect the changing needs of the organisation. There are risks and challenges as positioning 5 or 6 volunteers within a workforce of 35 is a significant number, the transitional nature of the volunteers requires they move in and out with an intentional and effective turnover process, the volunteers involved all need to come with a level of understanding of organisational change and a willingness to work with a collective approach. The meeting this week suggested the future looks bright for the project and the commitment of the volunteer who will assume leadership is going to be very helpful.

The week has ended with me assuming house-sitting responsibilities again. I am sitting in the garden which is in full bloom. The noises, instead of cars, buses and motorcycles, are those of the birds, the tree frogs and the palm fronds clacking in the very gentle breeze. I am distracted by the humming birds and lizards whose fleeting movements keep catching my eye. The sky is a perfect azure blue without a cloud in sight and at 8 in the morning it is already hot and very bright. I wonder at the subtlety of the change of seasons here, the colour of the greens, the change of humidity in the air, the change of the breezes, the blossoms and fruits as they come and go. One of the biggest differences for me is the lack of urgency in the seasons. Where there are great changes there always feels to be some urgency to make the most of each (or for me some urgency about wishing away the season for which I have no appreciation - winter!) Where there is more constancy that urgency is not present. It is more than likely the sun will shine tomorrow, the air will be warm and whatever I have planned will be possible, not withstanding the occasional hurricane or tropical storm that may emerge between July and October! Among the many things I will miss, I will miss this tropical climate.