This week seems to have been a point of transition in many aspects of my current experience, perhaps the summer solstice has a stronger influence than I had heretofore acknowledged! At work the number of students attending the programme has reduced to a very few as end of year exams required the attendance at school of even those suspended, Mr "Dudus" Coke was apprehended and is now in custody in the US, the weather has demonstrated signs of the emerging hurricane season and the announcement about my leaving Kinark was circulated at the agency and to other colleagues.
End of year exams are the focus of attention for high schools and students. Exams are rigorous and constitute a large part of the assessment of the students' success for the last year. This has meant fewer students at the programme and those that are attending are either doing their exams with us or going back and forth to school to sit their exams. The Grade Six Achievement Tests results were made public this week and these are still reported in the newspapers. The GSATs are national exams for all eleven year olds and determine the future academic opportunities for the children of Jamaica. The results of these exams are the method by which the Ministry of Education decides which school will be attended by which children. This is a strong reminder for me of the English system I experienced more than four decades ago and I still remember how stressful it felt. There is huge disparity in quality of education between schools where attending one of the "traditional" schools provides the potential for influence and success in the future but attendance at some of the other schools limits the possibility of participation in post secondary education. It is a difficult process and questionable in its application leaving many children with few choices for the future at the age of eleven. There was much concern this year, particularly in Kingston, as the results the children achieved did not seem to be reflected by the schools they were offered. In a country where corruption is a primary concern there is a sense that even in these processes fairness and effort are not necessarily the greatest influence on the decisions taken.
Mr Coke was apprehended on Monday and is now in custody in the US. This ends one chapter of the troubles for which his extradition was the catalyst. As the continuation of the State of Emergency, the focus of the curfews and sustained presence of the security forces in several communities can no longer be justified as being in pursuit of Mr Coke it will be interesting to see what the government now chooses to do. The emerging test is whether there is any real ambition to rest power from the gangs and change the way in which politics and governance occur in Jamaica. Many people believe that if the politicians collectively do not seize this opportunity to change the ways and relationships between politics and gangsters Jamaica's future looks quite grim.
The week produced lots of rain. No concern right now about a water shortage, no more water lock-offs and I seem to have integrated the cultural norm of being hesitant to venture out in the rain! Twice this week getting to work required a taxi as had I followed my usual routine I would have been soaked to the bone by the time I arrived. Although one dries off quickly as it is still very warm it is not a comfortable way to start the day. The first Tropical storm of the season (Alex) moved from the Atlantic across the Caribbean and provided a glimpse of what might be to come. Two days of clouds and rain that fluctuated between drizzle and incredibly dense downpours fuelled by very strong gusts was an unusual experience for me here. In eight months I think I could count on one hand the days on which the sun has not shone, so two days without sun was disconcerting! I passed the CUSO-VSO spot check for emergency preparedness as I could confirm I have bottled water, food, first aid supplies, torches, candles and matches, and a route to get to the office if I need to. I also confirmed that in the event of a hurricane I have no desire to be evacuated! A little research has informed me that a hurricane usually blows through quite quickly and that essential services are usually restored within 3-5 days. I think I can manage through that without needing to leave. However, I now have a new activity - using the satellite images available on the web to track the formation and progress of Atlantic storms. I like to be prepared!
How can I write a blog at this time without mentioning the World Cup! Although my own interest in football was limited to a brief period in my teens when Georgie Best was a rock-star like player with Man U (and I am not sure my interest was really on the football) I am now familiar with most of the teams that are still in the World Cup. World Cup fever is endemic here (as I suspect it is in most of the world) even though Jamaica did not qualify. The other day as one of the Youth Peace Facilitators came into the office to check something I asked "How is it going?" meaning of course the programme with the students. His response was "1-1"! A clear indication of what was uppermost in his mind, and a cause for laughter as we realised what the interchange illustrated!!
Finally an important event for me personally this week was that it was shared with my colleagues at Kinark that I am leaving the organisation. Kinark is an amazing place and for 35 years I have had the privilege of working with so many incredible people. It is an organisation that has been value-based through all its transitions and one I respect immensely. I will miss the shared vision and tremendous opportunities the organisation provides to those who work there, and particularly the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the children, youth and families that go to the agency for assistance. I am looking forward to other exciting opportunities that may lead me in different directions, but whatever presents itself I know my own contribution will be informed and enriched by what I have learned at Kinark. Thank you!
So on to the next phase, be it summer holidays, political change or personal change, there are so many possibilities!