Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Very Different Island

This week I am not in Jamaica but in Barbados where Haley, Tasha and I are very comfortably settled for the holidays. It is wonderful to see family here and it is far too long since we have been here together. It has been a week of relaxing, visiting and celebrating Christmas with a difference. There is an easy going comfort amongst the family here and we have been welcomed into their traditional gatherings with warmth. We are staying in a lovely apartment in an old house, Camelot House, that has been renovated. It is on the beach on the south coast with the Caribbean, sunrises and sunsets being the uninterrupted view from the verandah.

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

Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2011!

It is Christmas Eve and as the sun rises and I sit and look out at the Caribbean Sea, I think back on the year and appreciate how generous the world has been to me.
Through both gratifying and difficult events I have experienced a year in which family, friends, colleagues and new acquaintances have provided me with warmth and support.
Thank you all!
I wish for you a Holiday filled with joy and love.
May 2011 bring you wonder and fulfilment.
Happy Christmas and Best wishes for 2011!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Holidays Begin!

It has been week full of indications of the holidays and preparations for new work in the new year. Final days with the students, developing a workplan for a new project and hiring for another, shopping bonanza days throughout Kingston, Tasha arriving from Halifax via Toronto, Haley returning to Toronto from her annual US road trip and by tonight the three of us will be together in Barbados!
The Youth Programme was busy for the first three days of the week but on Thursday an eerie quiet set in as the school holidays began and no students were at the programme. This is a time for the Youth Peace Facilitators to catch up on the neglected paper work and get organised for the new year but this week had an added and uncomfortable dimension as the funding base for January is still uncertain. UNICEF staff had previously committed to continuing funding until it has completed the evaluation, which they have not yet completed, so we are hopeful they will honour this commitment which may provide another month of reprieve. Letters were sent to the MPs to see if they can offer some interim funding from their discretionary Community Development Funds but there are no certainties and in a climate of debt and cutbacks things feel very tenuous.
Given the reputation of the programme and the value the schools feel it has for them and their students it seems unconscionable that C$1000 a month per parish cannot be found to serve these students.
On a more optimistic note, the Burgher Gully Boyz - We Can Be the Change Project is getting underway. Budgets are finalised, equipment being purchased and the workplan created. The work will start proper in the new year and it will be a very interesting process to explore if this short-term, intensive intervention can interfere with the vulnerability of young men who are beginning to attach themselves to gangs.

UNIFEM also finalised the contract for The Way Out project and hiring will be completed before the Christmas break. I was included as part of the interview team for the Knowledge Management/Communications position and was impressed with the thoroughness of the process developed for hiring. Competition for jobs is fierce and a great deal is demanded from candidates through the recruitment process. The quality of the candidates available is enviable and the team that will emerge will undoubtedly be a dynamic and well-qualified group of five. One of the most interesting elements was as we rated the candidates there was without question a different cultural bias. My perceptions were focussed very much on attributes such as organising ability, task focus, clarity and others in the team much more focussed on storytelling and personal connections. One element that was particularly interesting was the difference in terms of expectations; the candidate whose resume had not raised high expectations exceeded those expectations and the one whose resume had generated high expectations was clearly at a disadvantage in terms of meeting expectations. It was evident that exceeding expectations definitely led to a more positive view at interview, obscuring whether the performance of the candidate was comparitively better or worse than the candidate for whom expectations were higher.
The week has seen shopping bonanza days in downtown Kingston and many of the plazas, though I must admit that I did not take advantage of them. The effort to re-establish downtown as a destination of greater draw and variety continues but the throngs of street vendors and density of people moving through the narrow streets is not an appealing challenge for me!

Tasha arrived on Monday and although the weather was disappointing for much of the week she has had an opportunity to relax and recoup after a very busy term. It is lovely to have her here and she settles very easily into the Kingston adventure, though the pounding music and screaming DJ that went on until 4:30 this morning was not a welcome experience!
"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!

As I write this Haley is on the plane to Barbados and Tasha and I will leave here in a few hours. It will be lovely to have time with them and with family there and I am very much looking forward to it.
Given I will not be "In Jamaica" my blog entries may be interrupted and in case this is so I wish everyone a very Happy Holiday Season in which you too enjoy time with family and friends!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A cold front moving in....

The feel this week has definitely been one of the ending of the current year and the beginning of a new one. DRF was a hive of activity getting ready for the AGM, there were meetings and conference calls throughout the week to get a flurry of work completed before the holiday slow down (despite the cold front this is the only "flurry" I am likely to experience I am happy to say!) I attended the launch of a powerful video. From Canada, what is becoming a family harbinger of Christmas, Haley headed south for a ten day road trip through the States.

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!

On Friday night Jamaicans for Justice, the human rights organisation at which I recently received training, launched a documentary "Victims' Voices" funded, in part, by the EU. reports the stories of three mothers who have each lost a son to police extrajudicial killing. The stories told of three very different young men but all quite unconnected to criminal activity or gangs. One, a fifteen year old cycling back from the store with banana chips and juice. Another, a young man with cognitive challenges, walking home and the third, a young man tidying his room at his home in West Kingston when police moved in during the declared State of Emergency, but after the incursion, and took him because "he looks like a gunman". The stories are heart-wrenching and the documentary, made by a young woman engaged in completing her Master's at UCLA Berkley and a journalist, Madeleine Bair, carefully chronicles the stories without gratuitous emotion. As a result the video is powerful and thought provoking. The three mothers are tenacious about telling their stories so that the police force here becomes accountable, and the killing is stopped. Madeleine and JFJ are to be congratulated for their courage and commitment. The video will soon be posted on YouTube.

Today I heard the weather forecast (something I rarely pay attention to given the constancy. What fun are weather forecasts when they are always the same and always right?) but today's grabbed my attention with the ominous phrase " a cold front moving in from the east" . With trepidation I listened. I was informed that I should anticipate a three degree Celsius drop in the temperature. I am prepared, I borrowed a quilt for the bed, pulled out my 2 long- sleeved shirts and calculated the temperatures that are going to assault me. Apparently, over the next three days it will be a chilly 23C, except during the afternoon when there will be some relief and temperatures will achieve 26C. Cold weather warnings are a little different here, and this is winter even I can manage!

As the week draws to a close, Haley will reach her good friend in California, Tasha will reach her good friends in Toronto and I will spend the rest of the day making preparations for our Christmas visit to Barbados. Tomorrow I pick Tasha up at Kingston airport (I don't think the cold front will trouble her too much given what she is leaving behind!) and "it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The week has been full with long and busy days mostly spent at DRF working on the Annual Report for the AGM next week, exploring potential funding sources from calls for proposals and happily receiving confirmation of funding from UNICEF for a recently submitted proposal. In addition of course time with students, who are preparing for exams, and negotiating with schools to ensure they are permitted to write their exams despite suspensions.
Christmas is definitely in the air. Attending church for the morning sermon is quite unneccessary at this time of year, one needs simply to ride the buses! The Christmas season seems to soften the tone of the preaching from the more threatening tone at other times of the year. In addition to the sermons there is the singing. One day this week the sermon and singing was from a man whose resemblance to Ray Charles was not only his blindness but also his incredible voice! Gospel being rendered passionately by a man who sings like a cross between Ray Charles and Keb Mo is great accompaniment on the morning journey to work.

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

In Jamaica, youth is certainly NOT wasted on the young*

(*with apologies to George Bernard Shaw)

Each week, one way or another, I am reminded of the tremendous strengths of Jamaica and the challenges it faces. There were several reminders this week whilst I attended a youth conference.
Yute X 2010 brought together over 300 youth to discuss participation and advocacy.

“Fulticipate to Elevate: Enhancing development Through Youth Participation” ,

the second biennial conference was presented by Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network with the support of UNICEF, USAID, ASHE, Jamaica National, and others. I attended two of the three days of the conference and was once again impressed by the intelligence, thoughtfulness and how informed and articulate the youth of Jamaica are. And, despite the very serious nature of the discussions, they bring an exuberance and enthusiasm that is often demonstrated through song, dance and entertainment! As I have noted before song and performance are an integral part of every event here and the youth did not disappoint. From the spontaneous singing as they set up in the morning to the formal presentations and performances scheduled as part of the programme, the talent demonstrated was remarkable.

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

Best 50 Volunteer Blogs - In Jamaica made the list!

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

Changing Seasons

This week the mornings have been particularly lovely. As the days get shorter and the nights cooler the sun is only just peaking over the mountains and has not acquired the strength nor height to burn the clouds off as I head out to work. The clouds blanket the mountain tops, imitating snow, though with a softness of contour that snow covered mountains do not achieve. The clouds tumble down from the peaks, like benign avalanches that evaporate as they meet the warmth of the plains air rising from Kingston. It is a wonderful sight with which to start the day.

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

A quiet week

This week feels as if it has been quiet, though filled with things of interest. Quiet in that there has been no threat of hurricane, no major political events, no holidays, no travels outside Kingston. It has, however, included 3 days of Human Rights training, a day of consultation about implementation of parent resource centres and finally a day spent back with the students. All of which were interesting and stimulating.

The two week internship for our South-South colleagues provided the opportunity for Jamaicans for Justice to put us to work for three days in discussion of developing a Caribbean-wide Human Rights virtual network. Having heard from those involved about their work and passion with respect to defending human rights, those of us at the workshop then spent the time together exploring how to develop a focused and accessible virtual network to support and resource all that are involved in defending human rights across the Caribbean. Each island has unique issues but each has issues in common and it was easy to pull together themes and a solid foundation upon which the network could be built. In Jamaica the primary focus for Jamaicans for Justice is police brutality, particularly the significant number of extrajudicial killings that occur every year in Jamaica. It has been reported by Amnesty International that the rates of extrajudicial killing by the Police and Defence Force in Jamaica is the highest per capita in the world.

The Internship has now concluded and new found colleagues have returned to their various islands in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people and learn more of the Caribbean context, such as the country/Overseas Territory of Anguilla with a population of only 14,000 and the challenges and implications that has! The two representatives from Haiti spoke warmly of their country and brought a picture of a place that is more than just a series of catastrophic events, and the changes in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana that are having and impact on human rights and the population. There is clearly sound reason to bring these activists together and support a critical voice across the Caribbean.

Friday I spent back at the youth programme, which was delightful. Most of the day was divided between two students. The first, a student whose family has been significantly affected by the gang culture (his father and older brother were both executed through gang warfare) When I asked him what he wants to do once he has finished school his response is "become a community leader". This led to a very interesting conversation about whether he meant he wanted to become a Don, as Community Leader is often a euphemism used for the dons. He was clear he wanted to lead through peace and justice. His mother is intensely protective of him which is causing tension between them and our conversation explored why she might be so protective. We talked of how his long term ambition may be interpreted by her, through the eyes of a woman who has already lost a husband and son to gangs. It is interesting to recognise it may be better to discourage a young person from articulating he wants to become a community leader.

The second student, whose appearance led me to believe he was about 11 but I discovered he is 15, has been at the programme for a month and yet the youth peace facilitators are still certain he has not gained what he needs to return to school successfully. When told he would be expected to return on Monday he broke into tears. Discussion with him about his reaction provided the information that he has to walk to the programme from his home, which is in the far west of Kingston and over an hour's walk, because his family cannot give him bus fare. The discussion also surfaced that, although he presents as quite articulate, he can neither read nor write...perhaps this contributes to his difficulty in school? Having provided him with some time on my computer through which he started writing why he wants to return to school and the nominal funds required to get a bus home and back to the programme he left smiling and looking forward to returning on Monday. Again I was reminded of how little it takes to make a difference for these students.

As the sun was setting on a beautiful, sunny warm Saturday I walked down to the Jamaican-Hindu Diwali Festival. It was a lovely evening with a ceremony that explained the history of Diwali, women in beautiful silk saris of vibrant colours, men in crisp white cotton and thousands of tiny lights and candles. All were welcomed and after the ceremony a feast was shared to the accompaniment of traditional music and dancing.
Jamaica works hard to respect the many cultures that have created "One People Out of Many" .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can you help? UPDATE! Nov 11th

UPDATE FOR DONATIONS TO HELP SHIP GOODS TO WOMEN IN JAMAICA (and easier!): 1) go to the Seneca College website 2) click on donate to Seneca. 3) When at the donations page, under gift designations, click on other special projects, then in the description enter ECE Jamaica trip. Please help if you can. Marveth has given two months of her tiem to come to Ontario to get donations and really needs help with the cost of shipping the barrels back to Jamaica! ThanksFunds are needed to ship donations from Ontario to Jamaica.

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:

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

Waiting for Tomas

Much of the week was spent watching and waiting for Hurricane Tomas. Having been surprised by Tropical Storm Nicole there was a vigilance about watching the progress of Tomas. The week was filled with emails and radio reports on hurricane preparation: 5 gallons of water per person, batteries, torches, canned food, staples that do not require warming, matches and candles, cash and well charged cell phones. Travel plans for the weekend were cancelled, check in systems established. For those with houses roofs were strapped down, shutters located and prepared. All this requires resources and so many do not have the additional financial resources to easily make these preparations. I was surprised about how consuming it was and how it affected all that was going on. Children and staff at the Youth Programme were unsettled. The longer I am here the more I appreciate how tenuous things can feel and how vulnerable so many people are to things beyond their control. Once again people's thoughts turned to Haiti, despite being so occupied with their own preparation and the potential hardship here many people spoke quietly of how it would be so much worse in Haiti so if it had to be a hurricane let it be here not there. However nature is neither kind nor discriminating and Jamaica escaped but Haiti did not. By Friday evening it was clear that Tomas had passed us by without incident leaving only the freshness of a cool breeze and a beautiful sunset as the sky cleared and the dark menacing clouds of the previous forty eight hours gave way to gentle wisps that looked like brush-strokes across the western horizon. There will be much activity over the weekend to determine how to help our neighbours to the east who seem to be subject to a heartbreaking string of disasters.

Work-wise my week was occupied by attending Mediation Training. Mediation training is one of the major activities for DRF and there were over 35 people in training this week. The participants represented countries from Canada, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago. The training was engaging and it was a pleasure to get to know the other participants. We will have some catching up to do next week as all non-essential workers were required to be home from Thursday noon onwards so the roads could be kept clear in case of the need for emergency vehicles to have quick passage. This meant our training time was curtailed and will have to be made up to enable our certification. The value of alternative dispute resolution is enormous in Jamaica given the propensity for disputes to very quickly escalate to either adversarial and litigious or aggressive responses. One of the participants noted that the language and style of interaction, that of questions, clarification and re-framing, is quite different from the typical verbal interaction between disputants. It is true that even the verbal interactions one hears often sound aggressive and Jamaica patois has an aggressive tone.

On Wednesday evening I attended the launch of the book: "Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica" written by Marcia Forbes. It was a well attended event with four government Ministers offering accolades and other privileged members of society commending the book. The findings of the research that underpins the book were familiar, reflecting in content the daily conversations we have with the students at the youth programme. There seems little confusion about what the issues are for youth, there is little confusion about actions that have the potential to have a positive impact but there is considerable difficulty in getting from theory to practice!

The week has ended with two days of sunshine accompanied by a fresh cool wind from the north bringing unusually low, but not unwelcome, temperatures. I walked down to friends' yesterday evening to enjoy a wonderful dinner and great conversation. It was perfect walking weather and I even enjoyed wearing a cardigan to fend off the chill in the air. 24 degrees is now the temperature that feels as if there is a chill in the air! The freshness promotes a sense of well-being and I look forward to a productive week without the distraction of emergency planning.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hurricane season is not quite over

The week has been somewhat challenging as much of what I have been involved in focussed on children as the victims of violence. I attended a two day consultation on the National Children's Action Plan - Children and Violence in Jamaica Workshop; worked on the implementation plan the for gender equity project The way Out; and had an exciting afternoon discussing the implementation of a new initiative - Parent Places - with an extremely committed parent education scientist/advocate. My time with the students was limited this week and I realise that my sense of accomplishment is always diminished when I have less time with the students!

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.

The work week ended with a delightful dinner, in the garden of Star Apples, welcoming new
volunteers and a number of South-South interns. South-South volunteers are those who come from one developing country to learn from and contribute to another and this group will spend two weeks in Jamaica on a training programme to increase their knowledge of dispute resolution and human rights.
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 and Tracy Folkes Hanson ( (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!