Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Camp, curfew and conformity

This week has definitely felt like summer. It is hot and humid, the youth programme has started its summer camp and there are fewer people at the office, on the roads and on the buses.

My days have been divided between the office and the "camp". The Kingston programme camp is a day camp being run for a number of the students referred from schools. It is operating out of the Eastern Peace and Justice Centre which is located at the junction of two major roads in the east of the city, Mountainview and Windward. It is a vibrant neighbourhood, though surrounded by neighbourhoods that have seen their share of trouble in the past and recently. Unfortunately Monday saw these neighbourhoods under curfew which created some difficulty in getting around though the main streets to the south and west were accessible. In addition the curfew brought a strong visible presence of heavily armed military and police in full fatigue and bullet proof gear. I am still not used to moving around neighbourhoods restricted by the curfew but there are many who appreciate that this may be a positive indication of the country's commitment to continuing to round up the gang leaders and members. The curfew was lifted on Thursday, which may have been a result of the conclusion of the State of Emergency by the government. The conclusion had not been anticipated and the editorial in the Gleaner suggested it was the result of poltical miscalculation by both parties when a motion was introduced into Parliament early this week. The sceptic in me wonders if this is true or whether the opposition was trying to defend its political strongholds in the east of the city from the scrutiny of curfew. I think I am at risk of becoming a conspiracy theorist! Mistrust is certainly pervasive here and and it is difficult to view political motivation as benign given the political history of the last forty years.
The camp is going well, though not as well attended as had been hoped the twenty or so students attending are enjoying it thoroughly. It is a combination of recreation, activities, presentations and continuing work on decision-making and conflict resolution skills. The location allows for lots of activities and is big enough to accommodate pick-up football games, and impromptu performances. I have previously described the Eastern Peace and Justice Centre and now I have had a chance to see it in use it proves itself to be a great space. There is one downside - it means a number of student have an extra fare to pay to get there which accounts to some degree for the limited numbers. It had been hoped we would get some funding to support transportation but no funding has materialised. As one enters through the ten foot high gates (which are left open) there is an immediate sense of a safe haven and place in which one can relax. Colourful murals around the walls speak to peace and partnerships and although it would benefit from repair and maintenance it provides a free and open space for the students to congregate.

One of the conversations this week centred around the propensity in Jamaican society to conform. When talking about travelling on the buses with another Canadian, she told me that when she asked why she should not travel on the bus the person with whom she was talking stopped and looked at her quizzically and simply said "People like you don't travel on the bus!" "Like you" meaning white/light/middle class. This comment made me stop and think about how much people can and can't do as governed by social norm in Jamaica, how remarkably constricting it is and yet how people rigorously conform. From women in white-collar jobs being required to dress in dark suits with long sleeves, high heels and tights in temperatures that almost invariably exceed 30 degrees (it seems acceptable for men but not women to forego the jacket) to being required to have a car so as to avoid public transportation, from deference to authority acquired by colour or position to adhering to greetings determined by a protocol from an era past. Conformity however is not restricted to the middle class, it is as dominant at all levels including the "uniforms" that dancehall followers are expected to wear and the behaviour gang members have to adopt. Although I am aware that all societies are subject to conformity requirements those in Jamaica seem less constructive to general well-being than they might be and steeped in a history that might be better shrugged off. It is also quite contrary to the fiercely individualistic attitude that seems culturally dominant, once again I am reminded that Jamaica is place of dichotomies!

The rainy season is living up to its reputation. There is rain almost every day and frequently at the time at which I am preparing to leave the office. The rain falls in sheets that drench one in seconds so I typically wait it out until it has stopped, which is rarely as long as an hour, then wend my way between the rivers and ponds that are the immediate remnants of the downpour. These have generally disappeared after my brief end-of-day swim when I am on the last leg of the walk home. The moving clouds and moisture in the air provide perfect conditions for spectalular sunsets, with evening songbirds and treefrogs celebrating noisily as the sun re-emerges for the last daylight hour and dusk. The days are getting shorter and although the changes are subtle I am beginning to appreciate the differences in the seasons in this wonderful tropical climate.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Comings and goings

The week offered quite a variety of activity and visits to three other DRF locations, visitors coming and going, volunteers heading back to Canada for holidays and colleagues returning to engage in new endeavours.

The youth programme in Kingston was focused on preparing for summer camp and my work was directed in different directions. On Monday, with the assistance of another volunteer, I completed a proposal to expand the number of Peace and Justice Centres in the troubled communities across the island and providing an accessible unit cost framework. It was positively received by the Ministry to which it was submitted and immediately generated a letter of support to the funding body which is very encouraging, though a long way from a funding commitment. Then I headed out on the road with others to visit the youth programme in May Pen, Spanish Town and Montego Bay. We installed a new database developed by a volunteer a few months ago and met with the staff.

In Spanish Town the computer cafe was being actively used by a number of adolescents and the youth peace facilitator was dividing his time between the small number of youth attending the suspension programme, those using the computer centre and a group of enthusiastic young volunteers helping put the final touches to the summer camp plan. The plan looks great with the only stumbling block being the one typical of here - where will we find the very modest funds required?

In Flanker, Montego Bay we were greeted by lots of children already involved in summer activities. the Flanker Peace and Justice Centre is invariably a hive of activity and has made a tremendously positive impact on the community. It feels very much as if it is owned by the community and there are many local volunteers supporting the skeleton staff that operates the centre. They look forward to a church group from Miami visiting next week to run a summer camp for the second time. We then went into Montego Bay to the Peace and Justice Centre downtown which is looking much smarter than when we last visited with the addition of new desks, chairs, tables and computer equipment with support from DRF and CUSO-VSO, though again operating funding is a major issue.

It was wonderful to get out on the road and I am quickly reminded how much variety there is in this country. The drive is long, three and a half hours to cover the 180kms to Mo-bay, but quite lovely. As one winds ones way through the narrow mountain road there is no need to go hungry. Along the way the road is lined with fruit higglers and jerk centres. I was introduced to guinep on this drive, a fruit quite similar to lychee and deliciously juicy. Some other fruits available at the moment are jack fruit, pineapple, mango, apples, june plums, and of course the perennial bananas, papaya and oranges, all ready to be eaten as one travels the road! In addition there are many small stands that offer an even wider range of fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh fish stalls. Another illustration of the dichotomy of Jamaica - despite the poverty and hunger in the city it is indeed a land of plenty.

Thursday I was back in the city and meetings in Denham Town. The plans for summer camps and family days are coming together, though it requires much discussion and clarity about the boundaries and locations of events. It felt as if those involved are becoming weary and need a boost. It has been a very difficult few months and the complexity of making significant change is occasionally overwhelming. As is not unusual in community development the leadership and energy lies with a small group who have been working arduously to make sure the current crisis is experienced as the opportunity it also provides.There remains much mistrust, anger and grief in the communities and these take there toll on those working there.

One of the things that has become evident in my nine months here is the movement on an off the island both for short absences and long. It seems to be an integral part of Jamaican life from the adults that go to "foreign" to work, the students that go to "foreign" to university, the absent parents who live "foreign" , the professionals who take their education and their intellect and emigrate to the US, Canada or the UK, and those of us that come here for work or positions and move on and off regularly. It adds a transitory air that is not perhaps a positive element and I think may limit the emotional and real investment in the island. I think it might also contribute to the limited long-term vision and lack of accountability. On the other hand is also brings a sense of linkage to the rest of the world and an awareness of other countries and cultures that has a beneficial effect. It is a component of island life that I will give more thought to as it unquestionably has an impact, perhaps both positive and negative.

Next week will provide the opportunity to audit the International Institute of Restorative Practices Training for Trainers which is being provided to support the roll out of restorative practices by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with DRF. My hope is to get insight into what the trainers and the programme will need to ensure an effective long term implementation, a process that to date has not been afforded the attention it requires.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Broadening my scope...

The week feels as if it has been full of opportunities, and consequently the time has disappeared. I am getting involved in a wider range of projects at DRF, becoming more involved in the community renewal process for West Kingston, met a group of volunteers - Students Crossing Borders - who have done some amazing work and had a lovely trip up to Ocho Rios on the weekend.

The increase in scope at work is in part as a result of the impact of May 24th and the continued focus on the garrison communities. The crime stats for June were an improvement though still extremely high, there are still large numbers of soldiers moving around placing one community or another on curfew. Curfew means you can only move in and out of the community if you have the correct I.D. and many do not, it also means the soldiers are entitled to search homes, cars and people as they choose. Given how intrusive and difficult this is I really hope it increases safety and in the long run contributes to things improving. My focus has been two-fold - one short term and one long term. The short term activity entails working with the West Kingston Working group to contribute to the co-ordination of summer camps.The long term is developing and writing a proposal to open or expand Peace and Justice Centres in four of the most trouble parishes as the government strives to find a means of re-establishing some level of trust and a means to establish non-violent methods of resolving disputes. The final draft of the proposal was sent to the CEO tonight (today was spent writing and calculating hence the late blog entry!)
It has been a catalyst to articulate a replicable model with a clear understanding of the capacity available and funding required. I think the model has good potential to help in proposals and expansions for a few years to come so feels as if it is a significant piece of work in our goal to increase the organisational capacity of DRF.

In addition to these activities I had the pleasure of seeing a friend from Kinark. She and her daughter are in Kingston for two weeks doing volunteer work with Students Crossing Borders. They are involved in work in schools and in centres that care for children with HIV/AIDS through an organisation called Mustard Seed Communities. The group welcomed me one evening for dinner and to share my experiences here and then invited me to join them for dinner yesterday at a great fish restaurant in Port Royal ( a favorite spot!) Dinner followed a day in which we had headed to the north coast to swim with dolphins (which we didn't do!) but did enjoy swimming in the Caribbean and the two visitors swam and snorkelled with the sting rays! We went north through Stoney Hill through the twisty, narrow mountain road that leads tiny villages, follows the river and ends as one drives through banana plantations as one reaches the coast road to Port Maria. The trip home was via the craft market in Ocho Rios where bargains were accomplished as well as a wonderful discussion with one of the vendors about how to change Jamaica. Once we left Ochos we drove through Fern Gully, which has not dulled in its magnificence despite many trips through. Two kilometres of deep green gully with steep stone wall, hanging vines and rain-forest lushness, a canopy that filters the sunlight creating a sense of mystery in the muted depth and then one emerges high in the mountain with the sun shining and the moutains and pastures stretching ahead. It was a lovely day and it has been such a pleasure to spend some time and talk of how things are in Ontario.
At the end of the evening I drove back from Port Royal round the Palisade and into Kingston. There was an army checkpoint on the road, though nothing unpleasant, it was another reminder that all is not yet well in Kingston.

Next week will bring more travel, to Spanish Town and Montego Bay and I hope one more opportunity to see the friend from Ontario.

(apologies for the lack of images but a glitch is interfering with the upload!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Community Development and Celebrations

This week has provided a broad range of activities at work which contributed to a busy, demanding and interesting week, but limited time and energy for other activity so a Kingston-based week. In addition to my role at the youth programme, I have joined the West Kingston Communities Working Group and the Steering Committee for a recently approved project "Young Man Nuh Lingah" targeting "corner youth" in 10 communities in 3 parishes.

The West Kingston Communities Working Group has a mandate to develop and implement a co-ordinated support and re-building process for the three communities most directly affected by the May 24th action. It includes a wide range of community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations and government agencies. The discussion ranged from strategising about how to deal with the depth of the trauma that has been identified through screening 400 school children to how to develop a template that can be applied across all the Garrison communities and communities of 'informal settlers" across the country, all this in an environment of economic constraint. There were a number of things that were striking to me in the meeting. One was the apparent surprise of those who completed the trauma screening at the depth of trauma identified through the screening and how many students are suffering from severe trauma. This was striking to me as it has been my experience that the majority of the students who are suspended and attend the Youth Programme demonstrate indications of severe trauma, and this not as a result of a single event but as a result of their exposure to the "usual" violence perpetrated in the Garrison communities. It is hard to imagine the gulf between "uptown" from where most of the psychologists analysing the screening come and "downtown" is so great that there is little understanding of what children and youth are facing daily in their communities.

Another thing that was striking was the use of language. Just as at a previous community meeting I had noted the use of the term "influential men" which seemed to sanitise the real role these men play in the community, two of the terms used in the meeting were "regularising" and "informal settlers". "Regularising" is applied to the action being taken by the Jamaica Public Service and the Ministry of Housing and Water to re-institute charges and billing for electricity, water and rent. One of the indicators of how powerful the gangster control was of Tivoli is that residents were not required to pay the government agencies for utilities and housing as the gangsters would not let the authorities into the community. As can be imagined "regularisition" is not necessarily a well supported activity! "Informal settlers" is the term applied to squatters. There are many abandoned buildings in downtown and many are utilised by squatters, in fact the history of the Garrisons is founded on squatters. Historically as a result of the migration from the countrylarge numbers of people looking for work in the city squatted on the grazing lands (Pens) around Kingston building shanty towns. This was how the communities were first populated and built. The term "informal settler" is used with much greater respect than is implied by "squatter" and appears to legitimise those who have been forced to find shelter this way. This was encouraging to hear. I learned a great deal and look forward to my continued involvement with the group as, despite the differences, there are many similarities across cultures and countries about developing integrated community responses and I am hopeful I may be able to offer a constructive contribution.

The "Young Man Nuh Lingah" project is a challenging project targetting the engagement of "corner youth" in 10 communities in three parishes - St Catherine, Clarendon and Kingston. "Corner youth" are the young people, predominantly young men, who are unoccupied and hang around in little groups on the corners. As one travels through the poor communities the sight of these groups is notable and there is often a somewhat threatening feel about them. They are typically young people who have left school with few skills and have no opportunity for legitimate gainful employment and are as such very vulnerable to being engaged in gangs and crime. The project has very limited funding, so again will depend on a co-operative effort between existing community service providers both formal and informal. It will provide me with the opportunity to be involved in a number of communities at the community level over the next few months and connect with young people who I would not get to meet through the school suspension programme.

As well as work there have been celebrations this week. In my travels through the city I have seen endless Graduation Celebrations. It seems every location that can accommodate an event has been utilised this week and as I walk past there are the sounds of applause; singing and music, speeches thanking teachers, parents and the young voices of Head Boys and Girls who will moving on to their next phase in life. The halls are full of students - girls dressed in gauze, taffeta, satin and silk, boys in crisply ironed shirts, ties, dark suits and shined shoes. Laughter and giggles, shuffling in the queues as they wait to receive well-deserved certificates and proud parents dressed formally and looking extremely proud. These are the students for whom the future holds some promise and on the day of their graduations they can enjoy the praise of the adults who have supported them so far and look forward to the possibilities ahead.

Of course the volunteers also had a reason to celebrate on Canada Day on Thursday. A couple of the more patriotic volunteers had contacted the High Commission to explore what was being planned, only to be told that due to financial constraints the celebrations this year would be limited to only Distinguished Guests and volunteers do not qualify! So people gathered to celebrate together and I would hazard it was probably much more fun than a formal gathering at the High Commission would have been. I walked home after our gathering as it was not late and the High Commission was shut up tight with no evidence of a celebration!

I had hoped to spend the rest of Sunday at the beach but the day is once again cloudy so I will explore the weather forecast before I venture out. The beginning of hurricane season has brought significantly more rain and cloud than I have yet experienced here. Next week I am looking forward to a visit with a friend from Ontario who is here with her son doing volunteer work for the next two weeks.