Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can't see the view for looking for the potholes

If I ever collect up these thoughts into a book this will be the title (or something like this approporiately editted to be snappy. Where is tfh when I need her?) It sums up so much of what I experience in Jamaica. There is such a pressing need to pay attention to what is immediately in front, one cannot look at the "view". The biggest threat I face in my extensive walking in Kingston is the potholes in the pavements. Despite Kingston's horrendous violence and murder rates I feel no more threatened by random violence here than anywhere else in the world, however I am constantly at risk of breaking an ankle or taking a tumble given the state of the places left for pedestrians to walk. To avoid the hazards I am required to look down at the few metres in front of me when I am walking. This means I cannot see the view, which is almost invariably spectacular. It has recently struck me that this is an appropriate analogy for how the country works. So little thought seems to be give to looking at the distant horizon, the big picture, the whole, because everyone is pre-occupied with the immediate threats. The immediate threats are unquestionably real and hazardous, the country's debt, the level of violence, the gangs, drugs, guns, but this is also a place of tremendous potential if one looks up and out. If a clear vision of the future was developed would it help to address the immediate?
These thoughts have been promoted as a result of one of the tasks with which I have been absorbed this week, providing leadership in planning a two day Building Organisation Capacity Retreat to engage all DRF stakeholders in the CUSO-VSO/DRF five year project (the Retreat Planning referred to in the last entry). With only 3 weeks to do the planning this is proving challenging but there is a great team at the task and I am sure it will come together. I find myself forging the path between the culturally dominant approach (last minute, casual and chaotic) and the more linear approach with which I am more comfortable. Forging this path feels as if it is contributing to a less stressful experience for the team and, I hope, integrates the best from both approaches. The event is only part of a five year plan to achieve the ambition of DRF, which is what has promoted the thoughts about looking at the distant view. In a country where the well being of an individual or organisation may be genuinely threatened it really is difficult to look up and out.
Other activities this week were the Peace Day Event, which was an extremely moving vigil held at Emancipation Park. There were many testimonials from those who have been the victim of or perpetrated violence and then moved to rise above it. 168 candles were lit, one for each ten people murdered last year. This was a very powerful symbol but more powerful for me came after the event. The Committee (of which I had become part) was cleaning up and I was asked to blow out the candles and collect up the stands in which they had been placed. I found it to be a difficult task as, in blowing out each candle I was conscious of the ten people it represented. As I proceeded one of the young men cleaning up the sound equipment turned in passing and said casually "you're killing them again" - it reflected exactly what I was feeling and was a chilling moment mitigated only by the experience of the vigil that illustrated the commitment from so many to change things and interfere with the violence.
At the Youth Programme things are moving along well. The staff have embraced the programme changes and are working well as a team. Working directly with the students, who generously share their experiences, continues to be very gratifying. This week ended with several students talking about violence they had been subject to at the hands of the teachers, with one student showing the marks on her leg left by a beating from the Vice Principal. The staff were able to provide the students with names and numbers so that they can hold those who hurt them accountable, an important strategy to teach them as typically the advice from angry parents is that if a teacher hits you, hit him back. There is much work to do not only with students but with teachers, administration and parents and only 4 months of funding left. One of the proposals submitted last week has garnered a visit from the funder from the US, which is a positive sign, though only a first step and very far from a sign off on funding.

And finally last evening was spent watching a dance performance at UWI, which was wonderful. Dance is understandable even in patois so I could enjoy every moment of it!

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