Sunday, December 26, 2010
Barbados has changed since the days of our annual holidays, with greater sophistication and showing off the well cared-for look of Christmas finery. Every street and road is trim and tidy, houses, trees, roundabouts and town squares are festooned with lighted decorations. Traffic is slow moving and polite, there are no grilles on the verandahs and balconies and the pace is slower and gentler than Jamaica. It feels as if it has embraced its visitors and treats those if us that come to visit as treasured guests with whom those who live here share generously the beauty and ease of this tiny island country. And those who live here are quietly and undemonstrably proud of their island, with a quiet complacency that suggests few think there could be a better place to live.
The variety of topography is different from Jamaica. Barbados is a small island with no mountains but it has glorious coastline and beaches from the placid and lush west coast where the resorts and private houses dominate to the wild and undeveloped north coast with rocky cliffs and caves carved out by the relentless crashing of the sea. The east coast is the Atlantic with no land between Barbados and Africa. The waves that break onto the east shore have travelled a long way and the beaches are long and wilder than the south or west coast, with sand-dunes and miles of open space. The south coast, on which we are staying, has a lived-in feel with holiday homes, hotels, residences and businesses sharing the coast and the roads. A cooling breeze reduces the humidity and the beaches and boardwalk provide a lovely environment in which to walk for miles.
As a visitor, even with family here, I realise my view is limited and I am not privy to the depth of understanding that my stay in Jamaica has provided. Unemployment and underemployment plague Barbados as they do many of the islands. The opportunities are limited but with one of the best education systems in the world, and with a literacy rate in the top five, it does provide for its people to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. As well, Barbados feels to have a comfort with itself and does not seem subject to the highly competitive and aggressive nature of Jamaica. Both history and politics seem to have been kinder to Barbados, with no garrisons (other than that built appropriately for its Defence Force), no Dons and a still largely unarmed police force Barbados is a wonderful island to visit and a lovely place to relax and soak up the sun and the warmth of a gentle Caribbean culture. However, I will return happily to the layers, complexity and challenge of Jamaica where my view includes the Blue Mountains and the Caribbean and where I will usher in the beginning of a new year and all it has to offer.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
"Night Noise" is a significant feature of Kingston and can be excessive. To those of us from places where decibels are measured and monitored and disturbing one's neighbours is unacceptable it is very difficult to tolerate the Jamaican propensity for huge banks of speakers and apparent oblivion to the impact of the volume for those who live within the 5 kilometres across which the sound travels! There is no way to eliminate the sound as windows and shutters are designed for air flow not sound obstruction. It seems, as the holiday season begins, that the noise levels and frequency of street dances increases. As I recall there is not quite the same propensity in Barbados!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
The DRF Annual General Meeting, the second I have attended, went well. It is always good to pause and take stock. In the busy-ness of the day-to-day one may not appreciate the people with whom one works and the achievements that are accomplished. Accounting for the year provides that moment of pause and allows for the appreciation of what has been and what is to come. The DRF AGM was this opportunity. There are, of course, significant challenges ahead but probably no greater than those that have already been faced and overcome and it will be a pleasure to continue on into the new year to assist with these challenges. The meeting ended with lunch and the joking and conversations over lunch reminded me how warmly I have been welcomed by this wonderful and diverse group of people.
The flow of students to the programme has diminished as exams are in full swing. Those that have not been allowed back to sit their exams are experiencing the real-life consequence of the impact of their behaviour and poor decisions, as their marks will reflect their absence and thus be much lower than they had wanted.
The youth peace facilitators are catching up on paper work and have decorated our office which now looks extremely festive!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The grocery store has increased its supply of flour and dried fruits as fruit cakes are being made in most kitchens. As with so many things here, there is serious competition as to who makes the best fruit cake and great pride from the baker regarding her (or occasionally his) particular recipe and creation. There are various kinds - moist and well soaked in rum, dense with fruit, more "cakey", those made with fruit soaked for months or even years in rum, those cooked well in advance and steeped in liquor, those freshly baked and eaten immediately, dark ones and light ones. My experience is that they are all delicious and I graciously and with appreciation receive any that I am given! I remember fondly a gift from Markham last year of a particularly delicious one, thank you Kharma.
The darker side to the pre-Christmas season is being more aware when walking around. Crime and muggings increase at this time of year as people carry parcels and often more money. The dark falls early and provides cover for quick get aways, so extra caution is required. As I was walking home one evening a young woman waiting for a taxi asked if she could walk with me as no taxis were available. She was walking home and uncomfortable doing so alone, however the protection of a small, older white woman was more than adequate! A reflection of the respect still afforded, about which I have to say I have mixed feelings. Regardless, the company was pleasant and we enjoyed the walk together.
Friends and colleagues are making plans, as am I and Christmas this year will see me in Barbados with my daughters and the Bajan side of the family. Another tropical Christmas with the only white stuff being the sand on the beach and the only ice being that in our drinks! As well as the delight of sun and warmth, it will be wonderful to spend some time with my brother and his family.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Yute X 2010 brought together over 300 youth to discuss participation and advocacy.
There were some illuminating and telling moments. At one of the plenary sessions the presenter – a government planning representative describing Vision 2030 – asked the audience to raise their hands to indicate how many, if they received a visa tomorrow, would leave Jamaica and migrate. Without hesitation about 75% of the conference participants raised their hands. What a statement - to see so many of the young people, who talk proudly of what Jamaica could be in the world, so disenchanted with the current trajectory that, given the opportunity, they would leave without hesitation.
At another plenary session the presenter, an adult Youth Advocacy Network promoter, asked how many of the audience thought things would improve if youth attended church more regularly. About 80% raised their hands. The role of Christianity, and particularly the old testament, is enormously influential.
I was responsible for moderating the opening plenary for Day Two. The prospect was a little daunting - promoting and managing discussion between 300+ adolescents at 9 in the morning! However, the session demonstrated I had no reason to be concerned. The topic under discussion was the vulnerability of young people with respect to crime and violence. The presentations were moving and there was more discussion from the floor than the time permitted. One of the striking aspects of the discussion was that these young people were willing and clear about the responsibility they have in contributing to the issue. They would not allow excuses to be made for the high levels of youth involvement in crime. But, they are demanding that the adults making decisions also take responsibility for the the demise they have promoted by the corruption and the need to maintain power for the privileged few.
The days were full of stories, some uplifting, many very troubling but all insightful and presented articulately. The government here garners little respect from these young people. They are conscious of the links between their communities' difficulties and those elected to represent them. With respect and apologies to George Bernard Shaw, what seems clear is that adults waste what the young have to offer!
The evening drive back from Montega Bay last Sunday was even more spectacular than anticipated. As we drove east along the north coast road the daylight faded, the sun set behind us, and in front of us a full moon rose over the Caribbean Sea. The brightness of the moon, bright enough to cast shadows, reflected off the water and lit up the road, the small towns and coast line through which we travelled. The occasional cloud that obscured the moon only served to increase its beauty as the rays shone through and from behind them. With waves breaking onto the shore to the left and the outline of the mountains rising to the right, palm trees clattering in the breeze and the warm, fragrant air through the open windows, it was a wonderful end to the weekend and restorative in preparation for the week to come!
Having been away last weekend, this week I have stayed close to home enjoying time with friends and colleagues in the city and, as planning for Christmas gets into full swing, I think other travels will be limited for the moment.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This news was passed on to me by Mark (thanks) who is managing the return to the cold without complaining - well, too much anyway!
The site Connect 123 has In Jamaica listed as one of the best 50 volunteer blogs. Although this may not be the Pulitzer, for a neophyte blogger I feel quite chuffed!! With blogs one really never know who is reading them but apparently more than my immedidate family and friends. Thanks Connect 123.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Another indication of the time of year and the season this week has been the many workers on ladders and in "cherry-pickers" wrapping the straight, tall trunks of palms with millions of Christmas lights! By the end of the week the shopping plaza parking lots were ablaze with Christmas lights and as the darkness sets in by six in the evening it looks wonderfully festive. It still looks a little incongruous to me that the trees illuminated are palm trees, but I am happy to accommodate this minor dissonance given the temperature won't drop below 24 degrees Celsius!
Work has been a typical combination of time with students, organisational change work and meetings, and work with the Ministry of Education.
As the demands of school increase for both teachers and students more suspensions are being given. There also seems to be an increase in gang activity in the schools. Students who are emulating the social structures that they experience in their yards, on the streets and in the communities. These are not sophisticated, highly structured gangs but rather loose groups of "friends" who form alliances to deal with perceived injustices. They form and reform in various combinations and characteristically are gender specific. Even with this loose formation leaders become apparent and these are often the students who come to the programme. They are often bright and articulate and painfully aware of the inadequacies of their environment and the limited potential the future offers.
The work at the Ministry of Education was focused on the development of a Behaviour Management Toolkit that is being developed to support all classroom teachers. A counselling department in one of the smaller universities was funded to develop the kit and after a year has presented a very poor product. The young woman at the Ministry of Education who has recently been delegated to manage and distribute the toolkit fully understands the product she has been provide with is unusable so has persuaded a number of us to work with her to re-format and redevelop the kit. There is an enormous amount of activity at the Ministry level to try and provide teachers with tools and training to assist in managing classrooms that have too many students, too few resources and high demands for academic achievement. this work is being done by many who are highly motivated to improve things but are also conscious that the economic environment is so constrained that producing and implementing the resources they are working on is going to be difficult.
The weekend has been spent in Montego Bay, doing nothing ambitious and enjoying the quiet relaxation of lovely surroundings. The drive up across the north coast road, which I have not done in a few months, provided vistas as lovely as ever. The day offered blue skies, sunshine and sunshowers, a beautiful sunset and a relaxed dinner beside the harbour with the friend who accompanied me for the weekend. Perhaps today a while at the beach after a slow, gentle start. And then we will return to the noise and bustle of Kingston, perhaps through Fern Gully or perhaps again tempted by the coast road that has endless horizons as we drive with the sun setting behind us.
(sunset pic courtesy of Steph)
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
The donations are for women in 2 communities that were flooded out by Tropical Storm Nicole. If you are able to donate to this cause I would really appreciate it: http://www.givemeaning.com/proposal/rivertonandsimon
This link will take you to the fundraising page. To establish the fundraising capacity I need 99 votes and then we need your donation! Please follow the directions and help us get these women and children back on their feet. Thank you....
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
I have spoken before of one of the gifts that those who come to contribute to Jamaica can bring is a sense of hope and optimism but there are times when sustaining a sense of hope is difficult and a week that is focused on the violence perpetrated against children certainly makes it difficult. There is an awareness of the need to make changes at all levels from how children are parented to how communities are supported, from how the bureaucracies operate to how leadership is effected. There are many documents with plans for change, and another soon to be released. Many are working hard at exploring how changes can be made, are enormously concerned about the future of Jamaica as the levels of violence and poverty increase and the levels of education and the country's infrastructure deteriorates. However, the opportunity to make changes that appeared to have potential following the incursion seems to be slipping away as it is clear there is no political will to effect fundamental change in the current power structure and no strategy to address corruption. The fierce pride in being Jamaica also seems to be a barrier to making change as the national identity includes pride in being an aggressive and competitive people. At the workshop there was discussion about whether this contributes to the difficulty in reducing the violence. Discussing the violence and its roots, who is responsible and the possible solutions is a national pastime, from taxi drivers to Permanent Secretaries, however implementing a sustained strategy to take action that will promote significant change seems seems to be notably absent.
When sitting at a table of close to thirty people whose ages cover a range from early twenties to mid-sixties, whose nationalities span the globe, all engaged in animated conversation that shifts from one language to another with an ease that is daunting, all whose time, energy and intellect is devoted to contributing to improving the quality of life for those experiencing poverty and oppression, my hope and optimism returns. There are so many who contribute locally, nationally and internationally and I am fortunate to be surrounded by them. On that note, congratulations to Cathy Dandy http://www.cathydandy.ca/ and Tracy Folkes Hanson http://www.tracyhanson.ca/ ( (friends in Ontario) for their commitment and success in local elections. Their contribution will definitely be an asset to their communities!
The upcoming week is beginning with the threat of Hurricane Tomas, which appears to have potential to hit Jamaica by midweek. It also has the potential to hit Haiti and I truly hope it does not. For me, today will include preparation to ensure I have batteries, water, and food that does not require cooking or significant refrigeration as the inevitable consequence of a hurricane and the rains it brings is no power and no water for a period of time. I am once again house-sitting and the evening also promises some trick or treaters in the safety of this well secured community. Happy Hallowe'en!