As I move from first impressions to a deeper understanding of life in Kingston I become acutely aware of the difficulty in being a Jamaican. When I talk with people and tell them of the positive experience I have had since coming here the response, almost invariably, is "we're glad there is something positive about Jamaica". There is a pervasive sadness amongst people whose country is Jamaica. A sense of loss as they see their country slipping into what might be an irreversible trend of violence and financial disaster. Sadness that this beautiful island is known for its murder, rape and gangs. People live in constant fear, fear of personal violation, fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fear that one of the garrison communities will erupt into gun and gang warfare again. Many people live a life of self imposed constraint, not moving around freely, locked and gated into enclaves. Those that are privileged live behind their security measures, guards, dogs, alarms, gates and bars, those that are not live in fear or are co-opted to survive. This is not confined to Kingston but is now extending to other towns, cities and even the countryside. And there is a sense of shame that the country has deteriorated to a place that is hard to be proud of despite amazing athletes, wonderful music and a plentiful land.
Yesterday the headlines in the 3 papers emphasised just how pervasive violence is and just how far into the institutions it goes. "Crazy Gunfight", "Guns For Hire" "Corrupt Cops Must Go". Jamaica has struggled with political tribal warfare, gangs and drugs and now is fearful that a generation of children think that violence is the only way to survive. The violence amongst the youth is what feels different about the current situation, the increase in violence in the schools and violence between children is what is troubling people most.
Dinner conversation last night turned to what are we doing here, as foreigners, trying to build capacity. Can we really do anything that will make a difference to those that are disadvantaged? It is a question I have considered a great deal since getting established here. I believe there are a number of ways we can help. We bring expertise that many of the NGOs cannot afford to buy and which builds the capacity within the organisations and these are the organisations that are taking on the issues. Within the context that I am working I believe we will help bring systems and processes that will reduce the stress and chaos in the organisation, freeing up energy for service delivery and creativity. In a larger context we can bring hope, we see potential and opportunities where those that have struggled through the decline are struggling to see ways out. We bring a voice that can challenge the status quo without fear. Asking questions that can promote discussions, offering suggestions that can promote creativity and bringing experience from other countries that reminds Jamaicans that although things are dark they are not alone in this struggle. By our very prescence, commitment and investment there is a message that says "we think its worth it, we believe there can be change" and this can be a powerful message in a culture of hopelessness. One of our challenges is maintaining our optimism and energy when we cannot offer solutions.
This week, as the big picture looked grim and daunting, I was asked to work with some of the students in programme, talking with each of them about how as individuals they can make different choices and take hold of their lives, and it was a good reminder that even of the big picture is hard to tackle, helping to change things for even one child is of great value. One day at a time....one child at a time....I will strive to make each action count.
What others can do is help the economy by visiting this beautiful island where the beaches and coastal towns,waterfalls and mountains, and forests and plantations are stunningly beautiful. As a visitor, one is welcomed royally, cared for, and protected from the stress and difficulties.
Perhaps the upcoming weekend at the beach due to the kindness of friends, will lighten my sombre tone.