Sunday, April 25, 2010

There and back again

The week has been one that has straddled my various lives and illustrated to me how tremendously fortunate I am. Sunday took me to the Briar's in perfect Ontario spring weather. Gloriously warm sunshine over the glistening lake, blossoms and trees bursting with new leaves of so many shades of citrus green, fresh mowed grass and an energy generatd by the freshness of reawakening and emerging. Ontario is breathtakingly beautiful on those pristine spring days!

The PART/Centre of Excellence for Children's Mental Health workshop was stimulating and it was delightful to see many old friends and make new ones. The interest and understanding about the importance of how EBPs are implemented is clearly growing, which bodes well for effectiveness of service in the future for clients. I look forward to continuing the implementation work through involvement in the Global Implementation Conference ( planning groups and through new connections throughout the world. My one regret on the trip to Ontario was not catching up with a few friends I would love to have seen, but catching up would only have been meaningful through long leisurely conversations over lunch or dinner and time did not permit. So, my apologies, for some a brief email or phone call had to surfice but I anticipate with pleasure the long conversations ahead upon my return.

Returning to Jamaica meant saying a sad goodbye to Haley in Toronto, who will be working/schooling ( through the summer so visiting here may not be a possibility, and hello to Tasha in Kingston. Tasha is visiting until early May for her school break as this is home whilst I am here. Visitors bring a renewed awareness of the unique qualities and struggles in this country. The warmth and friendliness of banter with everyone counterpointed with the daily murder count on the front page of the newspaper (500 in 112 days).
It was exciting to be back in the hot, humid tropical air, the noise, the bustle and to find water in the taps! The weekend had provided heavy and sustained rainfall which has helped the water situation immensely. I headed to work first thing Thursday morning and felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction at being back. The sense of being part of this city was enhanced by meeting students on the street greeting me with a warm "Good Morning Miss Jacquie" and the fruit vendor from whom I purchase fresh oranges and bananas for breakfast each day, who asked what I had been doing in the last couple of weeks. The team gave me a very warm welcome and within moments the rythm of the work here returned. The urgency about how to sustain the programme is increasing but I hope the next few weeks will allow some focussed attention on finding some creative responses.
The weekend has brought another wonderful few days in Montego Bay. Life really is full of variation here, except in the weather which is perfect almost all the time!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Limited resources

In a developing country both water and funding are commodities that assume an importance rarely appreciated in industrialised, wealthy countries. The lack of both has increased the level of stress and urgency I feel in my work. As I prepared to return to Ontario for a brief visit my mind was still preoccupied with how to generate funding for the Youth Programme and at home the preoccupation is keeping the buckets and bottles full as the water is at best erratic.

The water shortage continues to become more severe. No rain of significance has fallen for several months, and the drought is as extended as any that can be remembered. Given a superficial glance the island looks as lush, green and fertile as ever however a more critical look reveals dry rivers, dry reservoirs, hillside fires and no water running off the mountains into town. The end result is more extensive water lock-downs during which the National Water Board simply shuts down the water and there is nothing running through the city system. The problem is most severe in Kingston and makes life difficult for all, but particularly difficult for those in the garrisons. There are now days without water at every residence that does not have a private water source and whole communities that are without water for days on end. However, resourcefulness is abdundant here and people seem to manage. The forecast suggests rain is a possibility soon which will help immensely.

The funding issue will not be as easily resolved. There is no forecast of a funding deluge and with the re-engagement of loans from the IMF funding for education and youth programmes will likely be harder to generate. Daily articles in the paper call for attention to youth but they do not seem to promote a tangible response from the Government. The value of the programme is clearly illustrated when there are over 50 students who arrive at 8:00a.m during the school holidays when their cohorts are out and about relaxing. But however valuable the programme is seen to be by students, parents or schools funding does not seem to be forthcoming or accessible.
My next focus will be to approach the Ministry of Justice and try to pursuade those of influence that this programme could provide a wonderful pilot project as an alternative measures programme to divert young offenders from the court system. It may be seen as serving well for the Ministry as they are currently being criticised for their lack of action. Here's hoping!

My apologies to regular readers for the delay and limitations of this entry but I have been happily distracted due to travelling to Ontario for a brief and busy visit. The days spent in Toronto have provided a wonderful opportunity to see family and friends, as well as reflect from a distance in "the year" so far. As I meet with colleagues at the conference I am attending and respond to their interest in how the year is going I am once again profoundly aware and appreciative of the tremendous opportunity this year is offering.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Half-Way Point...

This week it struck me that I am past the half-way point in the year. As I have been organising things for the week in Ontario I am more concscious of the time. What, at the beginning of the year seemed to be an endless year stretching ahead of me, now seems to be far too short. That being acknowledged I am also conscious that I do not want to be distracted from providing 100% here by investing too much energy in planning what's ahead. Half way through means still half way to go! The work here is strongly influencing my perspective and has served to highlight the incredible strengths of the Ontario system for children and families, as well as the remarkable organisation Kinark is. Things in Ontario may be far from perfect but there are strengths that are the envy of many. I am excited to catch up with the changes that have occurred in the last six months, and know the changes will illustrate the creativity and innovation of the organisation, as well as the tremendous commitment and capacity of the people that are part of it. Although it is still many months off I feel very lucky to be able to look forward to returning to such an exciting place to work with such a fine group of colleagues, where there is the continued opportunity to make a difference!

It was a short but busy week in which I pulled together the input and information from the Building Organisation Capacity Workshop, so that all in the organisation can see that there is active follow-up to their insightful and invaluable contribution. In addition, the final touches were put to another proposal, and at the end of the week the Youth Programme team got together for refresher training and a team meeting. The team meeting was a fine day spent at the Spanish Town location. It gave all the Youth Peace Facilitators time to get together, explore the subtleties of conflict resolution and anger management so critical to the work done with the youth, and time to share some of their own concerns and struggles. There are moments and events that remind me of the uniqueness of this society and one of these moments occurred in the team meeting. In sharing personal stories about resolving conflict and managing anger we were asked to rate the level of anger certain events generated and then talk about what led to those feelings. Of seven peace facilitators, two spoke of witnessing the murder of a loved one at home. I was struck by how unlikely these stories would be in most team meetings of a group of child and youth workers in Ontario, though recognise the parallel with some of the First Nations communities. Oppression has some desperate and long-standing consequences.

Outside of work, this week is Carnival Week, which means this weekend is the culmination of Bacchanal, many weeks of weekend parties and music with a weekend of various parades, music and dancing in the streets! Carnival here is not only the parade that offers the spectacle provided by Mardi Gras or Caribana (that parade is today, and watch out for paint whihc is apparently thrown liberally!)), but is a reason to take music to the streets and play it extremely loudly. Street music is one of the characteristics of Jamaica. There are street parties (PasaPasa) to be found somewhere everynight. Huge banks of speakers are erected and music is played at a volume that is probably damaging to the hearing of anyone within a five kilometre radius! The difference at Carnival is that the speakers are erected on flat bed trucks and driven through the streets throughout the night. One colleague experienced the "parade" returning four times to her neighbourhood and the music created such vibration that all the car alarms were activated! Music is enormously important in Jamaica, both as a means of expression and a potential means of escaping poverty. From reggae to dancehall to Gospel Jamaican music is influential across the world. Some of it is easy to appreciate, some is offensive and harsh but all reflect the nature of the country. The music created shows both the darker side of Jamaican life of violence, abuse and oppression, as well as the desire and drive to promote peace and unity. It is used to express all the passions and emotions that are intense in this country of dichotomies. In the city, the country or on the mountain roads, one sees the banks of speakers and can hear music from every rum shop. More than anywhere I have been the music is almost exclusively local. From every radio station to the street hawkers of CDs, the music is created and recorded by Jamaicans in Jamaica. Whether through the choirs of the churches and communities, or the DJs and MCs of street music, music is an integral part of life here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A week of less work and more play.

Family and friends have definitely been the focus of the week. From Sunday onwards I have enjoyed the company of both, with visitors arriving from Canada and Barbados, and the wonderful hospitality of friends of friends. Jamaican hospitality is without question the warmest and most relaxed I have experienced, and one is welcomed with tremendous generosity and graciousness. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of enjoying such hospitality, as a friend from Kinark, back visiting the place that was home for him, invited me to join him at friends' for lunch. It was a delightful afternoon and wonderful to spend some time with Lloyd in Jamaica.

The begining of the week brought the, now typical, demand of completing a funding proposal, meeting with students, connecting with funders and trying to find some means of sustaining the Youth Programme. There is begining to feel some real urgency to this and it also feels as if funds are extremely scarce.
However, after a somewhat hectic beginning the week ended early. Easter weekend is an important holiday weekend here and on Thursday afternoon the roads were clogged, as offices closed and everyone seemed to be doing last minute shopping. Many people head out of town and I was included in the plan made by family and friends. So I have had the pleasure of spending the last few days in the Blue Mountains. It has been quite lovely.
The setting is magnificent with moutain peaks to the east and to the west, beyond the mountains, the view is of the plains and Kingston stretching to the harbour and the sea . There are houses and cottages scattered on the steep mountainsides, surrounded by wonderful gardens and bordered by coffee plantations. Despite drought and significantly less water in streams and rivers the moutains still look verdent and lush. The mountains have provided a retreat from the city for over a century and there are some wonderful old houses and properties. The quiet is delightful, particularly in contrast to the bustle and noise of Kingston. The days have been a gentle routine of slow mornings, with the sun coming up and warming the cool air, and later in the morning a walk to a higher point to see some place of interest and beauty, of which there are many. The days are punctuated by wonderful meals and visiting with others who are here and obvioulsy enjoying the relaxed informal company of holiday visiting.
One of the trade marks of the Blue Mountains is the rolling cloud that tumbles down the mountainsides bringing mist and a quick and significant drop in temperature as the sun is temporarily obscured and moisture fills the air. The clouds roll down the mountains, across decks, over gardens and even through the open houses. These clouds bring a freshness to the air rarely experienced in Kingston and it is a welcome relief particularly in the hot, humid summer months. The clouds are not the only cover for the mountains. there are trees, plant and flowers of enormous variety. Orchids and raspberries, ferns and fir trees, and an abundance of lillies. Sitting in the garden in the late afternoon the humming birds and Doctor birds hover around the flowering trees. It is a spectacular environment. This, coupled with exceptionally fine company, has made for a wonderful holiday weekend that has felt much more than that!