Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week 1 at Dispute Resolution Foundation

I have completed the first full week at DRF and confirmed that it is a very busy place. There are 3 major services - mediation, youth programmes and training, all focussed on conflict resolution and reducing violence. The primary focus for the youth programme this week was the presentation of a Baseline assessment on conflict, crime and violence in schools. The assessment had been completed by a consultant in partnership with UNICEF. DRF had to present it to the schools and partners who had been involved. The youth team was frantically organising all week and I pitched in and helped put together the presentations and the focus group session. About 170 attended and were actively involved in discussion, identifying the major causes and potential solutions. All went well and the day illustrated another element of life in Jamaica that has come to my attention - singing!

People sing, on the buses, walking around, and at every event, people sing, and there seems to be an unlimited number of beautiful voices doing the singing. Another dichotomy - singing is a source of joy and pride yet one of the causes for violence, cited by the focus groups and in the baseline assessment, is conflict between rival music factions (currently Gaza and Gully). Given that music is so influential perhaps it has the potential to be a solution instead of a cause?

Somewhat connected to singing is the other dominant feature of Jamaican life that has impressed itself on me this week - religion. On Sunday I ventured out of the city on a local bus, me in my Sunday casuals headed for the beach, my fellow bus riders in pristine Sunday best, with coiffed hair under Sunday hats and bibles in hand. Singing on the bus on Sunday was definitely of a religious nature! People getting on and off at the myriad churches, greeting friends and family obviously enjoying the routine of a typical Sunday. There are enormous numbers of churches here (I have even heard it noted that Jamaica has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world) some very old and stolid, others a collection of chairs under a canvas canopy, all apparently well attended by all ages.

My day at the beach provided for sun, sand, swimming and some delicious just-caught fried fish and festival - a type of bread. The fish is caught and brought to shore at the beach and cooked over open wood fires in wooden huts on the beach.

It was a good day.

So the week has once again been one of learning: the bus system(I can now get myself to work and back on the bus, though there really doesn't seem to be any such thing as a bus schedule); the climate in which youth experience school; my place of work, and of course more about the country that I will call home for the year.

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