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" .

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