Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Madness and the month of CHAMPS

March Madness was the subject line used by the CUSO-VSO Programme Manager, Jamaica when he distributed a calendar of events for the last ten days of March. Apparently the "end of fiscal year madness" crosses countries and cultures! This March Madness has brought introduction to interesting new people, a gratifying and successful two day workshop with many learnings including the connotation of colours and the importance of CHAMPS, a lovely dinner in garden surroundings and this week's demonstration of Garrison trouble (nothing to do the the Programme Manager's calendar I hasten to add).

The week started with Garrison trouble. On Monday, as I returned to the Youth Programme office early in the afternoon one of the Youth Peace Facilitators told me that there was trouble in Hannah Town. The trouble included a shoot out between bad men and the police, an armed Defense Force helicopter circling above, three dead bad men and three injured police officers. It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon! The time children are leaving school, and most people are moving around their neighbourhood doing business. The CEO circulated through the office letting people know the office was closing and anyone who wished could head home as no-one was sure if the trouble would escalate further. In Ontario the CEO decides if the office should close due to a snow storm, in Kingston the decision rests on a bullet storm.
There was no further escalation, the police had "got their men" though the reaction across the city (ours was not the only office to close) reflects the nervousness about the instability discussion of the extradition of "Dudus" is causing. Initially it was thought the trouble was in Tivoli (Dudus' community) following his birthday party the night before.
No threat developed outside the Garrison and gang in which the trouble was experienced. Many of us, who did not need to check things at home, felt it best to stay at the office where there was no immediate danger, until the situation became clearer. As I walked home in the late afternoon I was again struck by the different worlds in which people live within the boundaries of Kingston and Jamaica. My walk home at sunset was as restorative and relaxing as usual but less than two kilometres away a community was dealing with the aftermath of a mid-afternoon gun battle. A country of dichotomies!

The Building Organisational Capacity Workshop was a great success. Nearly a hundred people attended over the two days, there was energetic discussion and extremely informative presentations from DRF's external partners including CIDA, UNDP, UNICEF, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education. All acknowledged with great appreciation the partnership with DRF and spoke to its continuation, which helps provide optimism about funding stability in the future. DRF staff and volunteers left hoping the discussions will continue, which will frame my next piece of design work for this project!
One of the acitivities during the Workshop required pre-determined groups. We had decided the groups would be denoted by colours and I requested coloured dots of five different colours from the supplier. I was careful to select colours that had no particular connotation to my knowledge, important I thought in a country where each of the 2 political parties is absolutely aligned with a particular colour (PNP - orange, JLP - green) The supplies arrived, three colours, orange, green and purple! We checked with the supplier, no other colours on the island so we carefully constructed combinations to neutralise any connotation and applied them to name tags. The activity went ahead, no issue to my relief. However, at the conclusion of the day there were a number of allusions to the "colours". What I had failed to understand was that this is CHAMPS week! CHAMPS is the annual track and field meet in Jamaica, a huge event in the National Stadium that brings together the high school track and field teams from across the island. Given the incredible record of Jamaican track and field athletes there is enormous and justified pride in the performance of the athletes and much riding on it as it points to the stars of the future. There is also serious competition between schools - all of which have colours, including one which sports purple and gold! Oops....despite my best intentions!

There are new volunteers arriving, visitors from CUSO-VSO Regional office in Costa Rica, VSO UK, and Canadians from two children's justice organisations in Quebec. All of which has served to make me feel like an old hand here, well past the initial stages of settling in! We had dinner at a lovely restaurant tucked behind buildings in New Kingston. An oasis of peace and tranquility in a lovely garden-like setting. There are advantages to an urban placement!
There will be lots of meetings and events in the coming week, typically being organised by my volunteer colleagues, and I am looking forward to stimulating presentations and discussions.

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