Sunday, September 5, 2010

Settling back home

Having arrived home late on Sunday evening I was up and out early to start the work week. The two weeks I was away were relatively quiet at DRF with many on leave as the summer holidays wind down.
This week however has been busy. There is a sense of urgency and pressure as parents get their children ready for school. Demands on tight budgets are high as uniforms and books need to be purchased and fees need to be paid. This adds a tremendous stress to most of the families and youth that attend the programme. Youth are concerned that their Mummy's will not be able to manage the additional expenses for the several children in the family, there is more talk about the minimal support that is provided by many fathers and fewer of the youth had bus fare or lunch money. The stress extends to the Youth Peace Facilitators, some of whom are experiencing the same struggles, and the Manager who will start graduate school but continues to work to support herself, her younger brother and others in her family. There is a culture of sharing income for those who make it that does not feel like an unwelcome obligation or expectation but rather a reasonable way of addressing finances in a society that clearly does not have enough capacity to offer jobs and income to all. There is no residual sense of owing but there is an increased sense of responsibility to use whatever opportunities are supported. In this spirit, those of us that have funds make sure that lunch is available to the youth and staff at the programme and my colleagues contribution of J$5,000 will be of great benefit in the weeks to come. Thank you!
The week included a trip to Spanish Town to celebrate the training of over 30 new mediators, through the EU partnership "We Want Justice". The training was provided to Justices of the Peace and it is exciting to see more and more decision-makers in the Justice system becoming familiar with an approach to settling conflict that is neither authoritarian nor adversarial. Alternative Dispute Resolution promotes each party taking responsibility and requires they find a solution between them. The Mediator facilitates but does not direct or pronounce adjudication. This approach has real capacity to impact the paternalism and judge and punish culture that is so pervasive and destructive in Jamaica. The participants were energised, excited and proud of their newly learned skills and it was delightful to celebrate with them.

I returned to Jamaica in time to say goodbye to one of the volunteers that has been on the journey with me since our first training in Ottawa in June 09. He has made an invaluable contribution to DRF through his work with finances and technology and is held in high esteem and great affection by those who worked with him. I will miss our lunch time consultations, discussions and occasional gossips, he with his gourmet creations, me with my avocado salad or cheese and crackers! As part of the original team that initiated the project at DRF I will miss his investment, energy and colleagial approach to the work. He was also a great travel companion who comfortably explored new places in an easy-going fashion. I wish him well in his next ventures...
Through the week I have settled back into my usual routine. The days have been hot and sunny and have been punctuated by brief but intense rainstorms that come and go so quickly one just waits them out. The city is incredibly green and lush, the vendors have all manner of fruit and roots available from sweet sop to bread fruit. I have enjoyed my walk and the warm greetings and news from the people I see regularly between home and work. I hear of their sons and daughters, their joys and challenges and feel included in their lives in a small way. No threat of hurricane so far this season, and all including me, hope the season spares the island from another challenge. It seemed peculiar that I was in touch with my daughter in Halifax discussing hurricane preparedness and, as is typical of her, she was well prepared and fared fine, kindly and responsibly checking in with her mother so I did not worry!

The week ahead looks busy with decisions to be made about another proposal submission for an EU call, school orientations, commencing the evaluation of the suspension programme, re-integrating students back to school, and setting up the planning group for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution. It is good to be back and good to be included in so many facets of work in Jamaica.

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