Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Jamaica, youth is certainly NOT wasted on the young*

(*with apologies to George Bernard Shaw)

Each week, one way or another, I am reminded of the tremendous strengths of Jamaica and the challenges it faces. There were several reminders this week whilst I attended a youth conference.
Yute X 2010 brought together over 300 youth to discuss participation and advocacy.

“Fulticipate to Elevate: Enhancing development Through Youth Participation” ,

the second biennial conference was presented by Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network with the support of UNICEF, USAID, ASHE, Jamaica National, and others. I attended two of the three days of the conference and was once again impressed by the intelligence, thoughtfulness and how informed and articulate the youth of Jamaica are. And, despite the very serious nature of the discussions, they bring an exuberance and enthusiasm that is often demonstrated through song, dance and entertainment! As I have noted before song and performance are an integral part of every event here and the youth did not disappoint. From the spontaneous singing as they set up in the morning to the formal presentations and performances scheduled as part of the programme, the talent demonstrated was remarkable.

There were some illuminating and telling moments. At one of the plenary sessions the presenter – a government planning representative describing Vision 2030 – asked the audience to raise their hands to indicate how many, if they received a visa tomorrow, would leave Jamaica and migrate. Without hesitation about 75% of the conference participants raised their hands. What a statement - to see so many of the young people, who talk proudly of what Jamaica could be in the world, so disenchanted with the current trajectory that, given the opportunity, they would leave without hesitation.
At another plenary session the presenter, an adult Youth Advocacy Network promoter, asked how many of the audience thought things would improve if youth attended church more regularly. About 80% raised their hands. The role of Christianity, and particularly the old testament, is enormously influential.

I was responsible for moderating the opening plenary for Day Two. The prospect was a little daunting - promoting and managing discussion between 300+ adolescents at 9 in the morning! However, the session demonstrated I had no reason to be concerned. The topic under discussion was the vulnerability of young people with respect to crime and violence. The presentations were moving and there was more discussion from the floor than the time permitted. One of the striking aspects of the discussion was that these young people were willing and clear about the responsibility they have in contributing to the issue. They would not allow excuses to be made for the high levels of youth involvement in crime. But, they are demanding that the adults making decisions also take responsibility for the the demise they have promoted by the corruption and the need to maintain power for the privileged few.
The days were full of stories, some uplifting, many very troubling but all insightful and presented articulately. The government here garners little respect from these young people. They are conscious of the links between their communities' difficulties and those elected to represent them. With respect and apologies to George Bernard Shaw, what seems clear is that adults waste what the young have to offer!

The evening drive back from Montega Bay last Sunday was even more spectacular than anticipated. As we drove east along the north coast road the daylight faded, the sun set behind us, and in front of us a full moon rose over the Caribbean Sea. The brightness of the moon, bright enough to cast shadows, reflected off the water and lit up the road, the small towns and coast line through which we travelled. The occasional cloud that obscured the moon only served to increase its beauty as the rays shone through and from behind them. With waves breaking onto the shore to the left and the outline of the mountains rising to the right, palm trees clattering in the breeze and the warm, fragrant air through the open windows, it was a wonderful end to the weekend and restorative in preparation for the week to come!
Having been away last weekend, this week I have stayed close to home enjoying time with friends and colleagues in the city and, as planning for Christmas gets into full swing, I think other travels will be limited for the moment.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Best 50 Volunteer Blogs - In Jamaica made the list!

This news was passed on to me by Mark (thanks) who is managing the return to the cold without complaining - well, too much anyway!

The site Connect 123 has In Jamaica listed as one of the best 50 volunteer blogs. Although this may not be the Pulitzer, for a neophyte blogger I feel quite chuffed!! With blogs one really never know who is reading them but apparently more than my immedidate family and friends. Thanks Connect 123.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Changing Seasons

This week the mornings have been particularly lovely. As the days get shorter and the nights cooler the sun is only just peaking over the mountains and has not acquired the strength nor height to burn the clouds off as I head out to work. The clouds blanket the mountain tops, imitating snow, though with a softness of contour that snow covered mountains do not achieve. The clouds tumble down from the peaks, like benign avalanches that evaporate as they meet the warmth of the plains air rising from Kingston. It is a wonderful sight with which to start the day.

Another indication of the time of year and the season this week has been the many workers on ladders and in "cherry-pickers" wrapping the straight, tall trunks of palms with millions of Christmas lights! By the end of the week the shopping plaza parking lots were ablaze with Christmas lights and as the darkness sets in by six in the evening it looks wonderfully festive. It still looks a little incongruous to me that the trees illuminated are palm trees, but I am happy to accommodate this minor dissonance given the temperature won't drop below 24 degrees Celsius!

Work has been a typical combination of time with students, organisational change work and meetings, and work with the Ministry of Education.
As the demands of school increase for both teachers and students more suspensions are being given. There also seems to be an increase in gang activity in the schools. Students who are emulating the social structures that they experience in their yards, on the streets and in the communities. These are not sophisticated, highly structured gangs but rather loose groups of "friends" who form alliances to deal with perceived injustices. They form and reform in various combinations and characteristically are gender specific. Even with this loose formation leaders become apparent and these are often the students who come to the programme. They are often bright and articulate and painfully aware of the inadequacies of their environment and the limited potential the future offers.

The work at the Ministry of Education was focused on the development of a Behaviour Management Toolkit that is being developed to support all classroom teachers. A counselling department in one of the smaller universities was funded to develop the kit and after a year has presented a very poor product. The young woman at the Ministry of Education who has recently been delegated to manage and distribute the toolkit fully understands the product she has been provide with is unusable so has persuaded a number of us to work with her to re-format and redevelop the kit. There is an enormous amount of activity at the Ministry level to try and provide teachers with tools and training to assist in managing classrooms that have too many students, too few resources and high demands for academic achievement. this work is being done by many who are highly motivated to improve things but are also conscious that the economic environment is so constrained that producing and implementing the resources they are working on is going to be difficult.

The weekend has been spent in Montego Bay, doing nothing ambitious and enjoying the quiet relaxation of lovely surroundings. The drive up across the north coast road, which I have not done in a few months, provided vistas as lovely as ever. The day offered blue skies, sunshine and sunshowers, a beautiful sunset and a relaxed dinner beside the harbour with the friend who accompanied me for the weekend. Perhaps today a while at the beach after a slow, gentle start. And then we will return to the noise and bustle of Kingston, perhaps through Fern Gully or perhaps again tempted by the coast road that has endless horizons as we drive with the sun setting behind us.

(sunset pic courtesy of Steph)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A quiet week

This week feels as if it has been quiet, though filled with things of interest. Quiet in that there has been no threat of hurricane, no major political events, no holidays, no travels outside Kingston. It has, however, included 3 days of Human Rights training, a day of consultation about implementation of parent resource centres and finally a day spent back with the students. All of which were interesting and stimulating.

The two week internship for our South-South colleagues provided the opportunity for Jamaicans for Justice to put us to work for three days in discussion of developing a Caribbean-wide Human Rights virtual network. Having heard from those involved about their work and passion with respect to defending human rights, those of us at the workshop then spent the time together exploring how to develop a focused and accessible virtual network to support and resource all that are involved in defending human rights across the Caribbean. Each island has unique issues but each has issues in common and it was easy to pull together themes and a solid foundation upon which the network could be built. In Jamaica the primary focus for Jamaicans for Justice is police brutality, particularly the significant number of extrajudicial killings that occur every year in Jamaica. It has been reported by Amnesty International that the rates of extrajudicial killing by the Police and Defence Force in Jamaica is the highest per capita in the world.

The Internship has now concluded and new found colleagues have returned to their various islands in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people and learn more of the Caribbean context, such as the country/Overseas Territory of Anguilla with a population of only 14,000 and the challenges and implications that has! The two representatives from Haiti spoke warmly of their country and brought a picture of a place that is more than just a series of catastrophic events, and the changes in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana that are having and impact on human rights and the population. There is clearly sound reason to bring these activists together and support a critical voice across the Caribbean.

Friday I spent back at the youth programme, which was delightful. Most of the day was divided between two students. The first, a student whose family has been significantly affected by the gang culture (his father and older brother were both executed through gang warfare) When I asked him what he wants to do once he has finished school his response is "become a community leader". This led to a very interesting conversation about whether he meant he wanted to become a Don, as Community Leader is often a euphemism used for the dons. He was clear he wanted to lead through peace and justice. His mother is intensely protective of him which is causing tension between them and our conversation explored why she might be so protective. We talked of how his long term ambition may be interpreted by her, through the eyes of a woman who has already lost a husband and son to gangs. It is interesting to recognise it may be better to discourage a young person from articulating he wants to become a community leader.

The second student, whose appearance led me to believe he was about 11 but I discovered he is 15, has been at the programme for a month and yet the youth peace facilitators are still certain he has not gained what he needs to return to school successfully. When told he would be expected to return on Monday he broke into tears. Discussion with him about his reaction provided the information that he has to walk to the programme from his home, which is in the far west of Kingston and over an hour's walk, because his family cannot give him bus fare. The discussion also surfaced that, although he presents as quite articulate, he can neither read nor write...perhaps this contributes to his difficulty in school? Having provided him with some time on my computer through which he started writing why he wants to return to school and the nominal funds required to get a bus home and back to the programme he left smiling and looking forward to returning on Monday. Again I was reminded of how little it takes to make a difference for these students.

As the sun was setting on a beautiful, sunny warm Saturday I walked down to the Jamaican-Hindu Diwali Festival. It was a lovely evening with a ceremony that explained the history of Diwali, women in beautiful silk saris of vibrant colours, men in crisp white cotton and thousands of tiny lights and candles. All were welcomed and after the ceremony a feast was shared to the accompaniment of traditional music and dancing.
Jamaica works hard to respect the many cultures that have created "One People Out of Many" .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can you help? UPDATE! Nov 11th

UPDATE FOR DONATIONS TO HELP SHIP GOODS TO WOMEN IN JAMAICA (and easier!): 1) go to the Seneca College website 2) click on donate to Seneca. 3) When at the donations page, under gift designations, click on other special projects, then in the description enter ECE Jamaica trip. Please help if you can. Marveth has given two months of her tiem to come to Ontario to get donations and really needs help with the cost of shipping the barrels back to Jamaica! ThanksFunds are needed to ship donations from Ontario to Jamaica.

The donations are for women in 2 communities that were flooded out by Tropical Storm Nicole. If you are able to donate to this cause I would really appreciate it:

This link will take you to the fundraising page. To establish the fundraising capacity I need 99 votes and then we need your donation! Please follow the directions and help us get these women and children back on their feet. Thank you....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Waiting for Tomas

Much of the week was spent watching and waiting for Hurricane Tomas. Having been surprised by Tropical Storm Nicole there was a vigilance about watching the progress of Tomas. The week was filled with emails and radio reports on hurricane preparation: 5 gallons of water per person, batteries, torches, canned food, staples that do not require warming, matches and candles, cash and well charged cell phones. Travel plans for the weekend were cancelled, check in systems established. For those with houses roofs were strapped down, shutters located and prepared. All this requires resources and so many do not have the additional financial resources to easily make these preparations. I was surprised about how consuming it was and how it affected all that was going on. Children and staff at the Youth Programme were unsettled. The longer I am here the more I appreciate how tenuous things can feel and how vulnerable so many people are to things beyond their control. Once again people's thoughts turned to Haiti, despite being so occupied with their own preparation and the potential hardship here many people spoke quietly of how it would be so much worse in Haiti so if it had to be a hurricane let it be here not there. However nature is neither kind nor discriminating and Jamaica escaped but Haiti did not. By Friday evening it was clear that Tomas had passed us by without incident leaving only the freshness of a cool breeze and a beautiful sunset as the sky cleared and the dark menacing clouds of the previous forty eight hours gave way to gentle wisps that looked like brush-strokes across the western horizon. There will be much activity over the weekend to determine how to help our neighbours to the east who seem to be subject to a heartbreaking string of disasters.

Work-wise my week was occupied by attending Mediation Training. Mediation training is one of the major activities for DRF and there were over 35 people in training this week. The participants represented countries from Canada, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago. The training was engaging and it was a pleasure to get to know the other participants. We will have some catching up to do next week as all non-essential workers were required to be home from Thursday noon onwards so the roads could be kept clear in case of the need for emergency vehicles to have quick passage. This meant our training time was curtailed and will have to be made up to enable our certification. The value of alternative dispute resolution is enormous in Jamaica given the propensity for disputes to very quickly escalate to either adversarial and litigious or aggressive responses. One of the participants noted that the language and style of interaction, that of questions, clarification and re-framing, is quite different from the typical verbal interaction between disputants. It is true that even the verbal interactions one hears often sound aggressive and Jamaica patois has an aggressive tone.

On Wednesday evening I attended the launch of the book: "Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica" written by Marcia Forbes. It was a well attended event with four government Ministers offering accolades and other privileged members of society commending the book. The findings of the research that underpins the book were familiar, reflecting in content the daily conversations we have with the students at the youth programme. There seems little confusion about what the issues are for youth, there is little confusion about actions that have the potential to have a positive impact but there is considerable difficulty in getting from theory to practice!

The week has ended with two days of sunshine accompanied by a fresh cool wind from the north bringing unusually low, but not unwelcome, temperatures. I walked down to friends' yesterday evening to enjoy a wonderful dinner and great conversation. It was perfect walking weather and I even enjoyed wearing a cardigan to fend off the chill in the air. 24 degrees is now the temperature that feels as if there is a chill in the air! The freshness promotes a sense of well-being and I look forward to a productive week without the distraction of emergency planning.