Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Influential Men...

This week has been one in which many of the activities I have been involved in have been focussed on developing strategies that might better protect children and interfere with the increasing violence of the youth.
Early in the week I had the opportunity of attending a community meeting at which a number of community leaders (the school principals, community pastors and a handful of others) from two "warring" communities had come together to try and develop a strategy to claim back their communities from violence. The communities together probably cover little more ground than a large city block but the stories were chilling. The discussions considered who in the communities should be involved in developing the solutions and there was consensus on the need to include The Influential Men. This is a euphemism for the Dons or gangsters, those who carry and supply the guns, recruit the youth and control the community, it feels like a pretty benign title for those who are responsible for so much destruction.

Other activities have included discussions about how to support the theme the National Child Committee has adopted for the year... All I Want is a Chance to Grow Up. In fairness most children do grow up, and many are successful. This is not a country where famine and drought or disease and war are claiming children by the thousands, but it is a country in which children die needlessly as a result of the influence of those Influential Men, a society in which the majority are stymied by the threat of a renegade minority and the consequences are infiltrating wider and deeper into the social fabric. This is manifest in the behaviour of children at school. The Manager of the Youth Programme at DRF talks about how different her experience at high school was from the experiences she is seeing now. She is 24 and left high school six years ago! In six years there has been a major shift in the schools and there is real fear that too many of the youth are out of control.
Finally, at the end of the week I attended a presentation by a sociologist and professor at the University of the West Indies (a university campus at which 85% of the staff and students is female!).The presentation introduced a predictive model for children vulnerable to failing at school and joining the gangs. I was left wondering at the value of a predictive model when there seems little political will to rein in The Influential Men.

However the week has not been all serious and work. Friends heading to Morant Bay asked me to join them and although the sea was too rough for swimming for me, good conversations and time on the beach made for a lovely day. In the evening I headed up to the foothills for a wonderful dinner of fresh kingfish and more good company, good conversation and the best rum punch in the world. The recipe is guided by an old Bajan rhyme: One of sour, Two of sweet, Three of strong, Four of weak, though the specifics kept secret by the talented producer!

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