Monday, August 2, 2010

Emancipation Day

It is Monday morning on Emancipation Day and my apologies for the late post! Sunday morning was spent watching the sunrise over the Caribbean from high atop a cliff at Boston Bay, Portland. This activity assumed my full attention and given I was spending the weekend at a wonderfully rustic spot the computer remained off all day! The weekend ended a week full of discussions and promise that reinforced the potential of the current opportunities for Jamaica. The week's discussions included a meeting at the Violence Prevention Alliance, University of West Indies, a meeting with the Bureau of Women's Affairs and a meeting in Denham Town, West Kingston. All served to demonstrate the commitment to change and the hope that is currently felt.
At the Violence Prevention Alliance the room was bursting with people who had been invited to start the process of building a collaborative to address the violence and rebuild the troubled communities. Each Ministry and organisation was given the opportunity to present the work they are currently engaged in and asked to position it within a context of coordination with others. This is a new approach and will be difficult as the predominant method of operating is competitive. Competition is a method well aligned with the cultural norm in Jamaica, which starts with competition for access to pre-schools and continues throughout school, in adult life the competitive processes instituted to acquire funding both from the govenment and from international funding agencies continue the support of a competitive as opposed to cooperative mode. Moving to cooperative and collaborative requires much reassurance and re-education.
As well, at the meeting, I heard a most heartening comment from the department responsible for developing the government plan..."our policy is no longer to negotiate with the gunmen, we are neutralising them." Although I did not explore what 'neutralising' constitutes, evidence is that the gunmen are being rounded up and held. Having reacted strongly in the past at community meetings that talked of needing to engage the "influential men" to allow community develoment, it was wonderful to hear that there is a recognition that peace cannot be built on a system that supports the power of the gangsters. This is a very significant change in strategy.
With the Bureau of Women's Affairs our disucssions centred around the implementation of a sucessful funding proposal to promote the influence and independence of women from the troubled communities. The project provides for four years of education and skills training so that women can become entrepreneurs, and empowering women to influence the governance processes. It is an ambitious project.
On Thursday I returned to Denham Town for our weekly meeting to plan the community days in West Kingston prior to school opening in September. The community centre was full of people, and there was a cadre of police officers and burly men at the doors and watching from the open second floor gathering space. This seemed somewhat unneccesary for our small planning meeting! Further exploration determined that Prime Minister Golding was in the building making himself available to meet with individual constituents, of which there were hundreds waiting patiently to see him. West Kingston is his riding and he has much work to do to restore trust and hope following the years of political tribalism, gangster control and the recent incursion.

Friday was the last day of the two week summer camp. The students were in fine form and enjoyed the celebration of what had been learned and achieved over the two weeks. I am sorry we could not continue the camp through August as it has provided a safe and relaxing place for the students who have attended but the Youth Peace Facilitators need time to re-energise and take holidays before school starts again and there is no funding for other staffing. August will be a month without students, unless there are children who drop in at the Peace Centre so my efforts will be focussed on community activity,developing the programme manual and evaluation.

The weekend....2 days at the Great Huts, Boston Bay, Portland. Portland is a parish on the north coast situated to the east and is the parish that enjoys the reputation of having the least violent crime. The coast road takes one through small towns that appear relatively prosperous, farming and fishing providing abundantly for those who live there. The coast line is beautiful with great variety. From long beaches and rocky shoreline one wends ones way east to craggy cliffs that are pitted with caves created by the relentless crashing of the waves against the relatively soft limestone rocks. All along, the shoreline has traditional fishing boats of bright colours, fishermen carrying strings of fish and lobster, nets and lobster pots strewn on the rocks for repair or having been disgarded by the changeable sea. This part of Jamaica was once the place of choice for visitors but in an era before huge, highrise all-inclusives. There are a few elegant old hotels along the road, most no longer provide hospitality but are a reminder of an era past. However there are still hotels and villas available from extremely exclusive to modest and eco-friendly. Our destination was the latter variety and proved itself to be the perfect spot for a very quiet, low-key respite. The Great Huts is at Boston Bay (the home of some of the best jerk in Jamaica) and is nestled on a cove that offers safe swimming in a bay that displays endless shades of turquoise from pale azure to deep indigo. The accommodations are quirky and delightful. The most luxurious being bamboo tree houses with beds built into the trees and huge custom made baths that look out over the bay, to the most modest which are "tents" of some permanence with tin roofs and large hanging batiks covering the walls. The floors are mainly sand, the decor reflects the African heritage of most of Jamaica's population and there is a general sense of care and affection thoughout the "resort". The vegetation is so dense it feels as if one is in the depths of the rain forest until one follows the path to the lounge... a room perched high at the top of the cliff , above the canopy of trees and vines. The view is east and provides a vista of Boston Bay, and the endless cliffs, caves and bays that stretch eastward, and the Caribbean. The quiet around sunrise is wonderful and the sea on Sunday morning reflected the quiet, as it gently rolled into the bay and lapped against the cliffs. It was a truly restorative break from the city. Dinner on Saturday evening was served to the accompaniment of singing from our host and the owner of The Great Huts, Doctor Paul and a performance from the Portland Performance Group. Doctor Paul, as well as being coommitted to and invested in supporting Jamaicans through providing free health care, supporting a shelter for the homeless, providing employment through the Great Huts and supporting the cultural activities through using the local talent, sings extremely well! The performance by the Portland troupe was well presented, though the depiction of the slave trade which was part of the Emancipation Day performance was a disturbing reminder of the history of manyof the peoples who are part of the Many that make the One People of Jamaica (Out of Many, One People)

Sunday, having started with the peace of a beautiful sunrise, ended with the drama of glorious thunderstorms which I also watched from the lounge on the cliff. Rolling, rumbling peals of thunder, cracks of brilliant lightening from black clouds moving rapidly across sea and into the bay, and with the clouds torrential downpours of rain and great gusts of wind. The children swimming squealed and shrieked with delight as the waves pounded onto the beach and they got as wet from the rain as from the sea! As the storms eased up it was time for us to leave and return to the city, warm from the sun, the sea and the lovely hospitality.

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