Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jamaican Youth: soaring and struggling

Young people were definitely the focus of the week as I attended presentations, sponsored by CUSO-VSO and organised by two of my fellow volunteers, spent most of my time at DRF meeting with students and CHAMPS drew to a close.
The week started with a visit from representatives from two youth serving agencies in Quebec. At DRF we shared with them information about the school suspension programme and several of the students presented and discussed the value of the days they spend with us. This visit was followed by a knowledge sharing workshop during which those from Quebec presented their programmes, as did DRF, and Office of the Child Advocate. The commonalities were many but there was still much to be learned from one to another. An interesting day.
Later in the week a Youth Summit was the highlight. A gathering of approximately thirty important representatives from agencies in Jamaica benefitted from a series of excellent presentations from youth involved in a Kingston Youth Centre, at which they are mentored and provided with daily workshops to improve their employability. Entrepreneurial endeavours will be the source of success for many of these youth and their creativity, potential and diligence were evident in their presentations. As one of the youth commented, "It was a good day" , a poignant remark as she recently lost her mother.

My work with the students focussed on helping a number of them understand and take responsibility for their actions and behaviour. A group of students from one school were suspended due to being in gangs, violence and disruptive behaviour. At first when talking to them individually each was indignant and felt victimised by the Dean of Discipline for being suspended as they had "done nothing" and were simply two groups of friends. By the end of several meetings and discussions their descriptions had somewhat changed. There was acknowledgement by each of them that the "two groups of friends" were in fact warring factions from two different classes and that between them they had brought knives, scissors, machettes and cutlasses to school for use when they warred. The discussions were insightful and courteous. I was once again struck by how much these students want things to change, and how responsive they are to a little time and a respectful ear.

The budget was presented this week and reflected cuts in almost all government funding and additional increases in taxes. As much of the country was focussed on the performance of the many superb young athletes from schools across the country the government announced cuts in education funding, and funding for youth programmes amongst others. It is hard to imagine how a government can reduce the funds available for education and youth when there is unanimous agreement that youth are incresaingly driven into anti-social behaviour due to lack of effective education and legitimate opportunities. 40 and 50 students in a class is not uncommon! Schools without functioning washrooms, with no supplies, students who cannot afford to bring or buy lunch and a country questioning why there is so much anger, violence and disrespect amongst the youth. It would seem an easy question to answer but the will to make it different at an institutional level seems remarkably absent.

In contrast to the struggles there has been enormous energy in the city generated by the 100th CHAMPS Track and Field Meet. The National stadium has been lit up every evening, hordes of students chatting and chanting and proudly sporting their schools colours throughout the city, taxis and cars with flags of various associations and a tremndous pride that this competition has occurred continuously for 100 years and is a showcase for the youth of the country. Despite temperatures well into the 30s, and no water available at the stadium as the competition started, the excitement was palpable and has been infectious. This small country produces some of the best track and field athletes in the world without the support of much funding or sophisticated equipment! This provides cause for celebrating the youth and the future.

Although almost completely consumed by my life in Jamaica I have kept connected to a few other pieces of work, including The Consortium for the Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices and planning of the Global Implementation Conference, that reflect my ongoing commitment bridging the chasm between the academic sphere and the practice sphere. As well I will be part of the National Implementation Research Network team to present at an international invitational event April 18th - 21st at the Briars, Jackson's Point. So I will be in Ontario, very briefly, in April! In finalising plans for the trip I realise it feels as if I am coming as a visitor, perhaps because it is such a brief trip and I am so immersed in things here. It is an interesting feeling though given it has been home for over 30 years. It will be lovely to visit with friends and spend time with Haley and Tasha.
However, before that I have the pleasure of visits here. Today I will see a friend and colleague from Kinark, who provided me with a wonderful send off and introduced me to much Jamaican and many contacts before I left. Knowing of people here on whom I might call was an enormous comfort when I first arrived and it will be delightful to catch up, on island territory! Later in the day my brother will arrive, it will be so good to see him as it has been over a year since our last visit.
As is often said here in response to "How are you?" ...I am blessed.

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