Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last post from 5 Old Church Road

This final week has been full and wonderful. I have been as busy as ever with work and also had time to say many goodbyes. This post is the last one I will write from my apartment on Old Church Road in Kingston. I hope it will not be the last post I write from Jamaica as the week has shown that there is still much to which I could contribute and many connections which will last beyond this Jamaican adventure.
Work-wise I seem to have managed a little of almost everything I have been involved in and, in the main, I am left with a feeling of gratification.

A hastily planned meeting on Monday confirmed the confidence the Ministry of Education has in the Youth Programme and I was left with the strong impression that they will institutionalise the programme and provide long-term funding as part of their student support system. Given this was one of the primary goals for my placement at DRF it is gratifying to feel it may well have been accomplished despite funding cutbacks at the MOE. I have one more task - to write the Terms of Reference for the School Suspension Intervention Programme Management Committee, the group that will be charged with managing the partnership between DRF and MOE and to develop the long term plan for the partnership. Goal #1 achieved!

Mid-week I provided implementation training for the teams that will be implementing the first seven Parents' Places. It was an exhilarating day. The teams came ready to work and by the end of the day it was evident that the concept to which I was first introduced in November will actually be on the ground within the next five months. Introducing the implementation framework has been a truly facilitating catalyst that has enabled the creators of the concept to talk to funders and providers in terms that clearly provide for a sustainable roll out. There continues to be development for the national roll out and I am looking forward to continuing to be available at least electronically, and perhaps even for the occasional consultation on-site! Parents' Places across the island have tremendous potential to provide support for parents of children of all ages and will be tailored to meet the needs of the particular communities in which they are operating.

Yesterday I went to the Eastern Peace Centre to see the progress there. It was a bitter/sweet visit as I heard that ten of the youth from the programme are now in vocational training programmes and four are headed back to school. All have got their TRN numbers (needed to get employment) and several are helping with the improvement of the Eastern Peace Centre. One however has not succeeded. He visited a couple of weeks ago and talked about his frustration in not being able to find a job. Last week he was engaged in an altercation in which he was stabbed, he then retrieved the knife and stabbed his assailant who died later in hospital. How often we tell the youth and the students that there is no such thing as a defensive weapon, that if weapons are used someone will likely be killed. This is the stark reality of the lives of too many youth here. One heated moment and life is changed forever. My heart goes out to the young, he had such simple ambitions centred on providing for his seven year old daughter. The young man is twenty.

More positively the project at the Eastern Peace Centre has led to the involvement of an established private business man and there is activity at the centre to improve the facility and develop a couple of small businesses which will provide employment within the community. The plans are achievable and the support is there as long as those involved keep focused. I have committed to helping in anyway I can through electronic communication. My proposal writing days may not be over!

I had a glorious day on Thursday as I drove out to Spanish Town to pick up a friend, the woman responsible for connecting with the women in Riverton for whom some funds were raised last December. Having picked her up we drove to her home in country, winding our way deep into Clarendon Parish climbing into the mountains. As we drove higher there were breath-taking views out over the Portmore Bight to the Caribbean Sea. The air was fresh with a cooling breeze that took the harshness of the heat out of the blazing sun. Her home is very modest with no runnning water and only brief access to electricity. Everything must be carried up the steep path to the house but once there it is a haven of peace and tranquility. We stopped a number of times on the journey; at the little shop to get water, in the village to catch up the local news, at the local primary school to talk to the principal and say hello to two of her grandchildren. At each stop there was leisurely exchange of greetings and news, no-one hurried and there was a marked concern for each other with inquiries about those who were struggling, whether the funeral planned last week had been as it should, if the child with the cast on his leg was managing well enough. I was invited in and enjoyed the privilege of being treated as one of the community. By the end of the visit I had met many people, received mangoes, oranges, grapefruit, cashew fruit, and many blessings. Country in Jamaica is a different life from city, it too has great hardships for most but the pervasive fear of violence is absent in most of the deep country communities and the gangs and powerbrokering do not play the part they do in the urban communities.
The mint tea was fresh and refreshing and the few hours atop the mountain, looking out over the many peaks and valleys to the sea, was restorative.

The weekend was spent in Barbados with my brother and his family and my nephew from England. What a contrast to life here! It was a delightful weekend spent mainly sailing in the Mount Gay Regatta, being invited into a very different life-style than the one in Clarendon, but no less welcoming and warm. The generosity of the Captain, and his family was lovely and the days spent with my brother delightful. A wise decision even though I couldn't get the super cheap flights "due to poltical and regulatory reasons"!

And tomorrow this remarkable journey ends. I will leave here taking with me so much more than I came with. It has been a journey full of lessons and learning, of meeting incredible people, of gaining an understanding of so many things for which I did not have a great enough appreciation. I will miss my life here, I will miss many of the people with whom I have found friendship and common purpose but will take with me the lasting relationships that are forged through sharing time, purpose and challenges. I cannot offer enough thanks to all who have been part of this journey and will be forever grateful for all it has given me. Nuff respec and walk good...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Report writing and reflection, concluding my work here.

It has been a week of reflection but also a week in which new things have been started. Much of the week was spent at the Peace Centre, pulling together reports on my work in progress so that it can continue without interruption but I also spent two days working with the group of people who will implement Parents' Places, bringing them another step closer to realisation. The week provided a reminder that Jamaica is subject to the vagaries of nature as an earthquake shook many awake at 4:30 one morning.

Writing the final report for CUSO-VSO provided the opportunity for me to reflect on all that I have had the privilege of being involved in whilst here. The scope of activities has been broad and the number of people with whom I have had the opportunity to work has been large. From community-based initiatives to system-wide processes and from meetings with Ministers to working with youth, the opportunities have been far reaching. The report writing has served to remind me how many dedicate their work and how much effort is being put into improving the situation for those who are vulnerable. So many people are committed to making things different. The efforts are many and varied. I have been extremely fortunate to be invited to participate in so much and learn so much about this remarkable country.
The work people do is not easy and it is made more difficult by the lack of leadership from the government. As the country moves into an election year there is much discussion about the broken political system and ineffective bureaucracy. These are arenas in which it is acknowledged that change is urgently required but it would be naive to think that an easy task.

However, despite the barriers, there are changes and with concerted effort and a lot of creativity, pockets of change occur and improvements are made. I think Parents' Places will be one of the initiatives that will have the potential to create change. Not only because a network of community based parent resource centres, with information, support and parenting education has the potential to improve parenting practices, undoubtedly an important goal, but also because of the nature of the proposed network. A network of many small resource centres, each reliant on their own resources and supported by a structure that is aligned to support the community ownership of the centres has the potential to engage many and forge new relationships. The process so far has shown that people are willing to commit their time despite the absence of the National Parenting Support Commission, which the government has yet to create despite three years of commitment, planning and funding. The group working now has decided to move ahead and support the implementation of the first Parents' Places, rather than wait any longer. It will require considerable work but the individuals and their organisations have committed the time and the work has started. We spent 2 days this week working together to create a realistic implementation process given the limitations. It was a remarkable two days, in which the concepts and tools of implementation planning were taken, integrated and applied not only to the task at hand but also to other initiatives these individuals are involved in. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with people here!

With the Easter holiday over students are back at school and exams are starting. This leads to a drop in the number of students at the suspension programme and also demands much negotiation with schools to allow those who are suspended to take exams. It is interesting to see the difference in attitudes amongst schools, some that make every effort to enable the students to take the exams and others that are willing to jeopardise the entire school year for a student by lack of compromise and support. There is much discussion with the students to help them understand the part they have played in jeopardising their school year however, there is too much at stake should they miss their exams and the Youth Peace Facilitators do everything they can to ensure the students sit the exams.

Early Wednesday morning brought my first experience of an earthquake of some significance. At 4:30 as I was waking there was rumbling and the apartment building shook noticeably, moving my bed across the floor several inches. There have been 2 other tremors in the time I have been here but barely noticeable. This one however was of quite a different nature! It was brief and did not cause damage but in the 10 seconds of the event I was prompted to think about the best way out of the apartment, no mean task given grilles and locks for security, and whether I should leave. Luckily that was the extent of it and I was not challenged any further, but it was a strong reminder of the fact that in addition to other challenges, Jamaica, as many of the Caribbean Islands, faces a much higher incident of natural disasters than most places in the world. However, on these perfect and glorious mornings with blue skies, cumulus clouds and seemingly endless sunshine the potential of earthquakes and hurricanes seems very far away.

The week ahead will be one of goodbyes and conclusions, but will also include a brief trip to Barbados as I take advantage of proximity and cheap airfares to go and see the Bajan Brown's and visiting nephew from England. How appropriate that at the end of my time in this country of dichotomies my week will include one, the sadness of saying goodbye here and the joy of seeing family close by. I will then return after the weekend and have two days to pack up and leave and will be back in Toronto on May 19th. My next post will likely not be next Sunday but a few days later and it will be the last one from In Jamaica, for now!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Long weekend, long week.

Easter weekend provided some much needed time to do final planning for the conference but also to take a day of respite. Although the week was then "short" it did not seem so with two days to get everything in place and then the conference for 3 days. The week ended with party time in Jamaica as J'ouvert is celebrated with street parties, parades and paint.

Having worked hard at ongoing conference preparations I decided Sunday as a day to take off and go adventuring. In the company of friends we set off with a map, sunscreen and a desire to find a quiet beach. Kingston is not a "beach" city and it is necessary to travel a little way to enjoy the Caribbean dream of sun, sand and turquoise sea. Typically I have travelled east to experience south coast beaches within a reasonable distance, this time we decided west would offer a new adventure, and we were not disappointed. With the navigator directing we headed out and left the major road as we entered Clarendon. Our route took us through Salt River in which we discovered an amazing mineral bath tucked behind mangrove trees. It was busy with families and swimmers and the cook houses and shops that surrounded it were getting ready to do brisk business. After a brief stop and chat with others enjoying a relaxing Sunday we carried on west and south toward the place indicated on the map as a beach - Jackson Point. The landscape changed as we drove as the place we had decided to find is at the base of the Portmore Bight, an unique swamp land on a peninsula that stretches south. Mangrove swamps with stunted trees, dense bushes and apparently many crocodiles. At the end of the road which was relatively reasonable, and past a few houses and farms we found the beach, which was nothing less than spectacular. A vast stretch of curving white sand, pristine and without litter or washed up garbage, the sea showing off the incredible colours of the Caribbean, with sandy bottom and a gradual grade that was perfect for swimming. There were no palms, but the bleached silver skeletons of trees washed up as a result of hurricanes. A constant breeze reduced the intensity of the sun and heat which though delightful, has the inherent risk of creating the illusion that the sun is not going to burn!
The day was glorious and restorative in preparation for the upcoming conference.

The conference was a success, though I think the cost both in staff morale and financially may prove to reduce the sense of success. Attendance was moderately greater than we had thought it would be at the beginning of the week ensuring that sessions were well attended. There were some wonderful contributions starting with the key note address that opened the conference. Justice Kokaram, Trinidad, spoke of the importance of ADR, the social implications of continuing down an adversarial path and energised everyone to engage and participate actively not only in the conference but in creating change across the Caribbean. The partnership with the Chartered Institute of Arbitration brought excellent contributions and enabled over 60 people to engage in arbitration training, and the development of Restorative Justice was positioned in a cultural context by Professor John Faris, University of South Africa.
The most challenging but in some ways most gratifying day for me was the day in which 300 youth from volatile communities attended. They brought with them an energy and the picture of another face of Jamaica, that was interesting and educational for all who attended. They did not attend without incident as might have been expected. There was a distinct aroma of ganja from the men's room during the lunch break, and tension between a crew from Spanish Town and a crew from Rose Town that prompted security to call the police. The advent of two police officers in flack jackets and toting very large automatic weapons certainly added a dimension that, though familiar in certain urban environments in Jamaica, was new to many at the conference. All was resolved without incident and the Inspector and police officers invited to see the session in which the youth were participating. Their experience was that 300 (or perhaps 294) youth were actively and positively engaged, manageable and productive, youth who they would typically be rounding up off the street corners. The day at the conference was a great contribution to the 'Young Man Nuh Linga' project.

J'ouvert is the celebration of the dawning of a new day and has been part of the Caribbean carnival celebration for centuries. The street parades and parties start late in the evening and continue through dawn as the "jour ouvert" is celebrated. There are bands and parties throughout, and in a city in which wandering through the streets until dawn may usually be ill-advised J'ouvert provides the best of Caribbean street celebrations! Bands and music at decibels guaranteed to damage ones hearing, throngs of people of all ages, colours and nationalities, and the requisite "painting"! One of the traditions of J'ouvert is that one gets covered in paint by people moving through the crowds. The origin of this is thought to be from the days of slavery when participants needed to disguise themselves as slaves were not permitted to join large gatherings. Several of the international presenters ventured out to explore the celebrations and apparently enjoyed dawn on the streets and will treasure paint covered t-shirts as a memento of partying in Kingston!

With the conference over and May arrived my focus is on completing and transferring my work here. I am sure it is going to be a difficult three weeks despite the prospect of exciting opportunities ahead. Kingston, the people and the work here have unquestionably captivated me. Part of the task of the next three weeks will be ensuring this is not a conclusive goodbye, but the beginning of a different and continuing involvement with those at risk from the more difficult facets of life in Jamaica.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conference, curfew and caches

This week was a short week and had a holiday feel to it as schools closed mid-week for the Easter Break. Work included daily focus on re-jigging (a term apparently not typically used here!) the conference, sorting out how to bring youth to the conference when their community is under curfew and the first meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places.

The 5th Caribbean Conference continues to dominate my work and final changes were completed this week. The numbers are somewhat smaller than had been hoped for but with some re-organising the conference should not only provide many stimulating presentations and discussions but should also break even financially. With presenters and participants from South Africa, Trinidad, Barbados, Haiti, Guyana, St Lucia, North America and Jamaica the scope and international applications of ADR should well illustrated.

One of the challenges that emerged for the conference planning this week is how to include 100 youth who are scheduled to attend Day Two when their community is under curfew. The youth day of the conference is bringing together 300 youth from 10 volatile communities. It is part of a year-long project, "Young Man Nuh Linga", that DRF has been involved with funded by Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Japanese funding to reduce violence(JSIF/JAVA). The project has focused on "unattached youth" or "corner youth", terms applied to young men who are not in school or do not have legitimate employment and gather on the "corners" in the poorest communities. They can project a somewhat menacing aura and are frequently connected to loosely formed gangs with access to guns. In Rose Town the police recently put a curfew in place as the violence and gang activity had flared. This is one of the communities from which the youth are scheduled to attend so, added to the challenge of organising score of youth unaccustomed to being organised is the difficulty of getting them through the curfew barriers. This will be no mean task as the police will see many of the youth as those that they associate with the threat. In addition a significant cache of arms was recently discovered in the community and the consequence of this is yet uncertain.

The last working day of the week brought the happy occurrence of the delivery of the cheque from the Ministry of Education, 2 months late but better late than never! This provides the funding for the youth programme until July 31st and the foundation for discussion of continued funding. It has taken more time and there have been more barriers than I anticipated but I think the extension of the programme for over a year and the indication that the Ministry will fund it suggests I have achieved one of the primary goals of my placement at DRF. The programme offers a tremendous option for the increasing numbers of students being suspended from school as well as having a broader influence that offers education and modelling for a changing attitude towards youth and discipline. Being "seen and not heard", the dominant approach to children, is a short-sighted and risky approach to the largest population cohort in the country. They intend to be heard and it will be essential that they are given legitimate and productive channels through which to be heard.

The inaugural meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places met this week. Seven committed individuals have come together to learn about and then support the implementation of the first Parents' Places. The applications are available for review, the process sketched out and the first intentional implementation process is being tested. Support for them will come from Parenting Partners Caribbean and the Ministry of Education has accepted that it is the logical ministry in which to ground the network of parent support resource centres. It feels very exciting to have contributed to moving this project from concept to reality and I am hopeful this will be a sustainable endeavour. I also hope I can continue to contribute with the help of Skype and perhaps the occasional return visit!

Easter Sunday morning finds me back at my apartment and enjoying a very quiet weekend in the city. Being uncertain as to what the demands might have been for conference preparation (there are only 2 working days left before the event) I chose not to make plans to go away. The city is delightful on a long weekend as it is quiet, a rare occurrence here! In a place where the weather is relatively constant this weekend has provided picture perfect Caribbean weather - endless sun, a gentle breeze in the middle of the day, glorious sunsets and warm nights. The day may yet see me find a beach for some relaxation!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Press, Parliament and conference count-down.

Another sunny Sunday morning and once again in the garden. The week has included a press launch, the resumption of Parliament, the conference, the ongoing work to support Eastern Peace Centre, the youth programme as well as a brush with bureaucracy and another volunteer farewell.

House-sitting has had the added pleasure of the company of the long-time family help from Mo-bay who came to stay for the week to take care of things during the day. Having someone stay at the house promoted me to think of a bill board past which I walk daily. It is an advertisement for a security firm and states "you are never alone". How true that is for most in Jamaica. Solitary time is something rarely experienced as always there is family or household support at home, engagement from those sharing the street if one is walking or driving, and the concern for ones safety and well being that prompts advice or instructions if walking or travelling alone. Sharing space is done with ease and comfort and seems to require little effort.

On Wednesday the Press Launch for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution was held at the Mona School of Business, UWI. It was quite well attended and promoted both a piece in the Gleaner and radio interviews about DRF, alternative dispute resolution and the conference. As we are still struggling to register the required number of participants it is hoped that the coverage will generate some activity. By the end of the week I had re-jigged the budget and the anticipated number of attendees and found a way for the conference to break even but it will require a concerted effort over the next ten days!The press conference was strategically timed to avoid competing with the opening of parliament on Thursday and we were fortunate to achieve the coverage we wanted.

Parliament opened with great pomp and ceremony. With Guards of Honour in full dress uniform, a display of wonderful hats and outfits and much tradition, it was an elegant spectacle. The parliamentarians have received a considerable amount of criticism for their behaviour and language in the House debates and there is hope that they will act with more decorum during this session. Some things seems to be consistent regardless of country and culture! The session will be interesting as it is the beginning of the positioning for the next election and there is interest to see if the tribal politics and the relationship with the gangs will demonstrate itself differently in the next election given the changes experienced through the incursion in Tivoli.

Things have been busy at the youth programme with the number of students being suspended increasing once again. The opportunity to meet with parents as they bring their children to the programme is invaluable and, as everywhere, there is a range in the capacity of parenting skills. On Friday I was confronted with a very difficult situation, a well-educated, well-spoken parent who when asked could not find a single positive attribute about his son, and repeatedly reminded us he was a teacher and knew about development and behaviour. The level of control he maintained, even of this brief interview was quite disturbing. The son was clearly trying to engage and ask for help, something his father was clearly reluctant to allow him to do. There are so few resources here to help parents and children work through the difficult tasks of parenting in this challenging society and this exchange once again illustrated for me the enormous value that parenting support and education could provide. Parenting can be be difficult in the most peaceful and stable societies, in a society in as much turmoil and with as many contradictions as this one it is even more challenging.

Friday brought a visit to Eastern Peace Centre from a major Jamaican business man and a representative of the International Development Bank. The visit was initiated by a young woman here on a Fulbright scholarship who has regularly visited the centre in the last few months. The potential of the facility and the role it could play in the community seemed to be appreciated by these visitors and I am hopeful that if we can provide them with a clear vision and set of ambitions for the centre and possible programmes there may well be support provided. Setting up a web of linkages and pursuing every opportunity is critical. The visit has added another, but very welcome task, to my list of things to complete before I leave in the middle of May!

My brush with Jamaican bureaucracy has not yet arrived at a resolution but I am hopeful it will do so early in the week. The bureaucratic processes in Jamaica are infamous for the slow pace, intransigent control, the lack of logic and value and the complete inability to circumvent it if one is not in an influential or powerful position. In fairness, having dealt with immigration, work permits, customs, banks and utilities I have not had any difficulties until this week. But getting a package into the country is looking like quite a challenge. It is a package of minimal monetary value, a package of tokens for me to leave when I say goodbye however neither its low value or insignificance in terms of importance seems to carry any sway. The bureaucracy requires me to have Tax Registration Number and I don't have one! I am working on the alternatives but the officials with whom I am working could be commended for their steadfast and unshakable commitment to the rules, there is no help being offered from that quarter!

From mid-April to mid-may three volunteers will be leaving. The dinner to thank and celebrate the most recent returnee was at lovely group of restaurants, The Marketplace, in Kingston. It was a good evening with warmth and appreciation in abundance. It is remarkable to see the wealth of experience that these events bring together as all the current CUSO-VSO volunteers are present, and just how many people commit their time and expertise to international development.

Having had a hectic week yesterday I decided to take an evening trip to Port Royal to watch the sunset and relax in the quiet of the small sleepy town at the end of the Pallisadoes. Port Royal was known as the "wickedest and most sinful city in the world" before 1692 when much of it ended up underwater as a result of a major earthquake, an event often cited as God's retribution for the sinners. From a local waterside restaurant one can look north back over Kingston Harbour to the city and the mountains. The sun sets behind the majesty of the layers and layers of mountains which are usually adorned with clouds that change colour in the deepening dusk. It is a peaceful way to end the day and an easy drive to find some quiet close to this constantly noisy city.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the garden

The end of another week and time is going much too quickly. This week has been focused on the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution. In addition some time with UNICEF as they gather input to inform their next 5 year country plan and facilitating the ongoing work for the Building Organisational Capacity at DRF.

The 5th Caribbean Conference has continued as a source of increasing concern as the planning and promoting continues to have a level of disorganisation that is somewhat debilitating. Slowly but surely the number of registered participants is increasing and the media promotion is also planned for much activity in the upcoming week. For a stretched and struggling NGO to add to its responsibilities the planning, funding and hosting of a 3 day international conference was very ambitious. However, there is no question that it is this level of ambition and drive that has led to the success of DRF over the 16 years of its development. The passion and commitment for promoting and practising alternative dispute resolution in a country in which "resolution" of disputes has typically assumed one of two methods - escalation to violence within moments with dire consequences, or court action which takes years to achieve settlement - is truly commendable and the influence DRF has had is remarkable.

Over the last 16 years mediation and arbitration services have expanded enormously; legislation has been passed that requires all civil matters that go to the Supreme Court be diverted to mediation before being addressed in court; restorative processes and practices are being implemented in communities across the nation with the support of the Ministry of Justice; schools and communities have adopted conflict resolution education and mediation for youth; and much of this movement can be attributed to the tireless activity of the DRF and its founding Board and CEO as they have engaged partners, trained practitioners and never shied away from ambitious plans!

This year is the transition year for many international development funding agencies. The many and various branches of UN development activity, UNICEF, UN Women, UNDP and others, operate on five year funding cycles. The objectives and goals of the upcoming five years for each, country and region are developed in partnership with the governments and NGOs of the country being funded. It is an extensive planning process that is challenging when funding is diminishing and needs increasing. Narrowing the focus to one or two key areas of focus, and then developing objectives and measurable indicators takes time and a great deal of effective facilitating. It is not easy to determine what will be the key areas that may drive the most effective change processes but it is interesting and stimulating to be included in the discussions. This process will continue for another month or so and then the next round of refinement will start.

My other area of activity this week has been the DRF/CUSO-VSO five year partnership project in which all the volunteers at DRF are involved. It is time for me to pass over leadership of the process to another volunteer and in doing so help develop the next steps. The Advisory Group had a very productive discussion this week, and through reviewing activities to date recognised that there have been some significant accomplishments achieved which have laid a solid foundation for the next set of actions. There are some clear directions and areas for the next steps and some enthusiasm from both staff and volunteers to take on the changes. The process remains a source of interest for CUSO-VSO as it demonstrates a new approach to capacity building. Instead of sending an individual volunteer into an organisation focused on a single area this project has engaged a group of volunteers in one organisation and approached capacity building by developing an integrated plan working on multiple areas at one time. Over the five years the expertise of the volunteers will reflect the changing needs of the organisation. There are risks and challenges as positioning 5 or 6 volunteers within a workforce of 35 is a significant number, the transitional nature of the volunteers requires they move in and out with an intentional and effective turnover process, the volunteers involved all need to come with a level of understanding of organisational change and a willingness to work with a collective approach. The meeting this week suggested the future looks bright for the project and the commitment of the volunteer who will assume leadership is going to be very helpful.

The week has ended with me assuming house-sitting responsibilities again. I am sitting in the garden which is in full bloom. The noises, instead of cars, buses and motorcycles, are those of the birds, the tree frogs and the palm fronds clacking in the very gentle breeze. I am distracted by the humming birds and lizards whose fleeting movements keep catching my eye. The sky is a perfect azure blue without a cloud in sight and at 8 in the morning it is already hot and very bright. I wonder at the subtlety of the change of seasons here, the colour of the greens, the change of humidity in the air, the change of the breezes, the blossoms and fruits as they come and go. One of the biggest differences for me is the lack of urgency in the seasons. Where there are great changes there always feels to be some urgency to make the most of each (or for me some urgency about wishing away the season for which I have no appreciation - winter!) Where there is more constancy that urgency is not present. It is more than likely the sun will shine tomorrow, the air will be warm and whatever I have planned will be possible, not withstanding the occasional hurricane or tropical storm that may emerge between July and October! Among the many things I will miss, I will miss this tropical climate.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

From contracts to coast

Another full week with the Youth Programme, the Burgher Project and the 5th Caribbean Conference, a surprise birthday party, social time with project partners, CHAMPS, and the weekend on the north coast.

The youth programme is back in full swing again with the numbers of students attending on the rise. Developing the interim contract with the Ministry of Education has been a trying process though that they have found funding, even if only until the end of July, is remarkable given their current constraints. The advantage of the interim contract is that it gives us a basis upon which to determine the possibility for institutionalising the programme and what will be realistic. Having finally signed off on the interim funding we must now go back to the table and open discussions about a long term future plan. It may be possible to invite UNICEF back to the table which would be of great assistance.
The other direction that I must find time to explore further before I leave is discussion with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of National Security with respect to adapting the programme as a diversion programme for youth in conflict with the law. CIDA has funding set aside for the reform of the justice system which includes establishing a diversion programme and setting the wheels in motion could be a good beginning to developing another useful application of the programme.

I spent much of the week at the Eastern Peace Centre continuing the interviews with the participants and helping plan the culminating retreat. I will gather up all the information over the next two weeks and prepare a report and, I hope, additional funding proposals, to enable the improved replication of the project in other volatile communities. A key activity over the next few weeks will be to ensure the relationships with the Eastern Peace Centre and the organisations that the participants have established continue beyond the project. This will be challenging but essential in achieving a key outcome of the project. As the project was designed as a catalyst for change the proof of its success will be the activity beyond the project. That being said there is no doubt that the three months have been valued and appreciated by the participants. They have felt a sense of purpose in their days, have been stimulated by challenging discussions and experienced friendship and team work developed on a positive foundation. They have learned from the two facilitators that there is an alternative way to feel connected and useful other than being part of a gang.
The group is currently at a small, very modest hotel on the beach at Negril for their culminating retreat. The extent of their collective experience outside Kingston is the occasional visit one or two of them have had with relatives in the country. No-one has been to the north coast, no-one has been on holiday, no-one had stayed in a hotel, including the assistant Youth Peace Facilitator. Apparently the journey to Negril was a little challenging as they had not anticipated what it would feel like to drive for five hours! However there was great value in them seeing the extent and the beauty of the island upon which they live. Whatever else the weekend achieves it has already provided a new perspective for the participants - there are places beyond the zinc alleys that boundary their community and sometimes their imaginations.

Planning for the conference continues with a sustained level of activity to try to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished over the next month. Most of the pieces are in place and what we must focus on now is getting participants to register. With a month to go the registration to date sits as 20% of the required number but I have been assured that people always leave registering the to last minute and there is a level of confidence amongst the planning group that we will succeed in registering the break even number. I can confidently say this has not been the most enjoyable or rewarding of my activities at DRF though one that has promoted much personal growth as I learn to trust all will come together. I hope my contribution has been helpful!

Socially the week has also been a busy one. On Wednesday I went to a surprise birthday party which proved to be a wonderfully warm and celebratory evening. The event was engineered by the daughter of the birthday woman and in a city where there really are no secrets she managed to pull it off as a complete surprise -the last minute planning thing works in favour of certain circumstances! There were three generations of family and guests and connections across the globe, as most had worked and lived in other places but all chosen to return and settle in Jamaica. In addition to honouring a wonderful woman, the evening illustrated one of the best facets of Jamaica, "Out of Many One People", and the passionate love of the country despite the impact of the political tribalism.
Another evening was spent with colleagues from The Way Out project, the UN Women funded project in which DRF is partnering with the Bureau of Women's Affairs. There has been months of hard work to get the project on the ground but it is now moving forward with a clear plan. It was a lovely idea provide an opportunity to bring together those that have been and will be working closely on the project for a time that was for enjoying time together and not working. Good food, games and a balmy evening made for a very enjoyable time.

The city was full of flags and old school spirit this week as it was CHAMPS week. Excellence in track and field is a national trait and the Jamaica's track and field success at the Olympics is unquestionably nurtured at CHAMPS. The standards achieved at this Secondary School competition are exceptional and it generates a great sense of enthusiasm and energy that is infectious. There are parades of student as whole schools walk to the National Stadium to support their athletes, street hawkers add school flags of all colours and sizes to their wares for sale, cars display standards, adults bring out their old school ties and wear them to work. The competition is fierce but the general sense is one of festivity and celebration because for whoever wins or loses this year, there is always next year, proven by the 101 years the competition has run! Congratulations to this year's winners, Jamaica College (boys) and Homewood (girls), and to all the competitors and supporters who make it such a wonderful event.

After all the excitement of the week, the weekend finds me on the north coast, in part to work (to spend time at the culminating weekend for the Burgher Gully Project) but also to relax in Mo-Bay and enjoy a little time away from the city. The drive up was a lovely as ever as I chose the north coast road that hugs the Caribbean for over three hours between St Mary and Negril, through seaside towns bustling with Saturday market activity, the sun blazing down on a turquoise Caribbean Sea. It is a very different Jamaica from the dense urban environment of Kingston. The country looks verdant and fertile with fruit and foliage. Along the route are endless fruit stands with a colourful variety of fruit an vegetables, fish stands with crab, lobster, snapper (red and grey) parrot fish and more, and of course smokey jerk stops with the tantalising smell of barbequing chicken, pork, lamb and sausage. There is no need to go hungry if you live in the country! It is lovely to sit and enjoy the breeze, the sun, the quiet and the sea and recharge for the next week in the city.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cloudless skies

The week has gone quickly absorbed by time at the Burgher Gully Project, 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution planning and ending with greeting the new CUSO-VSO arrivals as five more volunteers join our growing team. The days have started with cloudless skies, a delightful beginning to each day.

The Burgher Gully Project is fast drawing to a close and I spent time with the group and with individuals this week. I am interviewing each of the youth to explore what has been the most important aspect of the programme for them, what should have been there that wasn't and what will be next.
I completed six interviews and already themes are emerging. The most important aspect appears to have been providing a safe and productive place for them to go in a community in which their alternative is hanging out on the corners. Access to adults whose focus is their best interest and whose attention is the development of additional skills for the participants is also emerging as important. We have not provided enough remedial help for reading, a critical learning for the programme as many of the youth are functionally illiterate.
Of interest to me was that of the six youth I have interviewed, five perceived themselves as having "completed" high school with either a Grade Nine high school certificate or a Grade 11 high school certificate and only subsequently discovered that this level of education was of little or no value in advancing to gainful employment given their literacy level. Of the six the one young woman I interviewed was clear and articulate about her gains. She has moved from hiding in her house and not interacting with anyone to attending every day and being ready to go and further her education. She is one of the few with CXCs (the national exam that provide "subjects") Having "subjects" is an acknowledged indicator of school success and has the potential to open some job doors. She is now feeling more confident and next week will complete application forms for various taining programmes, jobs and volunteer exeriences.
Another emerging theme is the propensity for the staff to do things for the youth as opposed to encouraging the youth to do things on their own with the support of the staff. For example the Assistant Youth Peace Facilitator has created a resume for each youth rather than getting each youth to develop his/her own resume. This is a theme I will explore with the staff as it is critical we teach the youth to take initiative and ask for support.
Taking initiative is not promoted in the education system here, with a much higher value placed on compliance, and that is a subject that could be explored from the perspective of the impact on the functioning of the Jamaican society!
I am feeling there are some clear directions in which I can re-write and improve the programme to submit for funding from UNICEF and other funders and foundations. So much to do, so little time!

The 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution is moving forward. From months of inactivity and frustration on my part at my inability to get those committing to tasks to actually do them, the urgency of the time crunch (the conference is scheduled for April 28, 29, 30) seems to have motivated everyone. Two weeks ago I articulated my concern that we really were not going to pull this off. However, significant gains have been made this week, speakers confirmed, participants signed up, budget plan finalised, conference bags ordered,the conference team expanded. We still need 450 participant days to be paid for to cover the budget but the CEO is optimistic this will be achieved. This exercise has been the most graphic demonstration of the dissonance between my planning methodology and expectations and the DRF organisation cultural norm! It has challenged my ability sustain a facilitative role. It has challenged one of my learnings from the last eighteen months, that in Jamaica if the decision is to do something it will get done, despite all appearances otherwise and the apparent impossibility to pull it off. But the week has enabled me to retrieve my faith and I am now almost convinced we will pull this off!
Your help would be appreciated - please register at

Last evening was spent enjoying dinner and conversation with the new volunteers who had arrived over the last four days. They come from Ghana, Trinidad/Tobago, and the east and west coasts of Canada. Their enthusiasm and curiosity about the contribution they will be able to make to the organisations they are joining was delightful. They bring expertise in human rights, human resources, court management services and victim support. It was interesting for those of us who have been here for a while to have an opportunity to share some of our learnings and experiences, however, it was also a reminder that new volunteers are arriving because some of us are preparing to leave. I find much of my work and discussion is now framed by transferring responsibilities to others and ensuring that my transition does not impact the potential of the work to continue to move forward. As yet there is no Youth Advisor identified to assume my responsibilities, but there is a great Youth Programme team whose commitment will facilitate continuity.

Therein lies the essence of my week. Each day has started with a cloudless blue sky, unusual here as typically there are clouds amassing either over the mountains or over the sea even at the beginning of the day, in the dry season often to dissipate. The morning brings cooler air until the sun rises over the mountains, but by 7:30 as I am walking from Crossroads south east down Camp Road directly into the rising the sun it is already burning hot. The late morning and early afternoon often brings strong hot breezes that offer a little reprieve from the heat of the mid-day sun when shadows are almost non-existent The mango trees are now laden with fruit, trees that have blossomed begin to show new foliage as the summer takes hold. Birds and butterflies and mosquitoes are prolific. The fruit vendors offer bags of sweet apples, star apples, sour sop and naisberries as they wander up and down between the traffic. Every other day there is the late afternoon deluge, sometimes where I am but often in the near distance. The rain can be remarkably localised, drenching one area and missing another completely. I can frequently avoid the deluge by route or timing. I have also acquired the Jamaican habit of not going out into the rain, though not going in if caught in the rain. My umbrella returns as my steady companion, and I have acquired some skill in determining at the beginning of the day if it will be a day that brings rain or not. And as more evidence of having become a part of this wonderful place my walk to and from work always includes greetings and chats with familiar faces, often students who have been at the programme who greet me as "Auntie Jacquie" and assure me as we chat, that they are keeping out of trouble! There is much I am going to miss.

Next week I will continue with interviewing the youth at the Burgher Gully project and moving all the areas in which I am involved into transition planning. Six weeks seems little time to wrap up all that I have been involved in here, and also feels like too little time left!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fish Fry, funding and the future...

A diverse week, touching base with various different projects and back to the task of finding funding. Much of what I am engaged with at the moment is positioning things for the future which serves to remind me of close how it is to the time at which I will no longer live here.

Negotiations with the Ministry of Education continue. The funding for the youth programme is assured until the end of July and the discussions have illustrated that MOE has been quite creative in enabling this funding. Support has come from several people and particularly one young man at the Ministry who has diligently worked through, and continues to work through, the bureaucratic maze to make sure the funding is flowed. There are still hoops to jump through however slowly but surely the cheque is getting closer to the DRF bank account! The next disucssions are about securing funding for the integration of the programme on a long term basis.
In the meantime the programme continues to operate, with a particularly busy period for the Spanish Town programme. There is much unrest in Spanish Town at the moment with one of the gangs being very active and violent. Although the students may not be attached to the gang, the increased tension in the community increases tensions and anxiety throughout and both school personnel and students tend to be more reactive, resulting in increased incidents and altercatons and increased suspensions.
In the midst of this one of the headlines in the Gleaner early in the week when reporting on the upcoming fiscal year, reported that the largest budget cuts will be in the education budget. Reducing access to education and support for children and youth seems a very shortsighted strategy in a country that has experienced quickly increasing incidents of violence in schools, high number of suspensions and expulsions, and significantly reduced success levels in the last number of years. The government's perspective on education is critical and how it distributes its budget illustrates its priorities. Education and youth are clearly not on the agenda as a priority for the current Jamaican government.

The Parents' Places proposal for implementation is being refined by Parenting Partners Caribbean in the hopes that the government and UNICEF will continue to support the initiative having funded the development of the concept. It would be disappointing to see the tremendous work that has been invested in developing the concept go to waste for lack of support to put it on the ground. The level of commitment from the group of people who have come together over the last three months continues to be high and with a quite modest additional investment the beginning of a potentially successful approach could be made a reality so there is reason for optimism.

The computers funded as part of the Burgher Gully project arrived this week and will be one of the long term legacies of the project. The computer lab was buzzing with activity when I visited the centre and not only will this give computer access to the youth involved in the programme it will allow the Peace Centre to operate an accessible computer lab for the local community.
On Friday the Burgher Gully youth hosted a fish fry at Eastern Peace Centre to raise funds for their final retreat. The youth were responsible for planning, marketing and helping with the cooking and serving so had the opportunity to learn many skills. The fry was successful, though given the nature of the community there was a fair amount of "credit" extended as people came to the centre for their lunch or dinner! The accounting will be done next week as we meet and make plans for the final two weeks of the project and evaluate the success of the project. I am continuing to write proposals to build on the beginning the project has made and hope to submit them in the next couple of weeks.

Already one of the secondary outcomes of the project has already materialised, the Eastern Peace Centre has become an active and vibrant hub in this volatile community and the computer lab will assist in this continuing. One of the local "informal community leaders", who has a role in managing the space, is there daily endorsing the establishment of peace and supporting the youth to engage in constructive and productive community involvement.

The Manatt/Dudus enquiry continues with Prime Minister Bruce Golding currently being questioned. The level of cynicism increases as the enquiry progresses! It would appear no-one believes the truth will be told, from taxi drivers to professors, from higglers to business owners there is a consistent belief that the enquiry will cost a great deal of money, lawyers will profit, nothing will be learned or gained and no-one will be held accountable! It is, however, the number one topic of conversation and continues to be broadcast daily on radio and television.

My week ended at the 60th birthday celebration of a colleague and friend from DRF. It was lovely to be included in the celebration and to be part of the group of close friends and family gathered to recognise and honour her for the wonderful woman she is. There was much conversation about the changes that Jamaica and Jamaicans have experienced over the last 60 years, and much laughter about the outfits worn in the sixties when we were teenagers! It seems Mary Quant even influenced teenagers in Kingston and acquiring and managing mini-skirts in this very conservative country took some creativity! It was a wonderful evening and the friendship will extend well beyond my tenure here.

Next week will be focused on linking with key personnel at the Ministry of Education and a concerted effort at finalising the planning for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Celebrating Women, recognising gender

Given the Centenary of International Women's Day the focus this week has been on women, but also gender. The topic promotes active and animated discussions in this country in which gender roles are so clearly defined and yet so complicated. It was a week in which I had little time at the Youth Programme as three of the five days were spent at workshops and one day was a holiday - Ash Wednesday but at the end of the week we did receive significant news from the Ministry of Education - the cheque is waiting to be picked up!

International Women's Day was celebrated with recognitions and music, stories of sadness and remarkable achievements. I started the day at the Violence Prevention Alliance Jamaica which chose to dedicate its monthly meeting to the recognition of eight women who have had remarkable impact on their communities. Each was given the opportunity to tell her story and each story was a testiment to strength, determination, quiet leadership, and the unflinching will to defeat the violence surrounding her. These are not women who have joined the traditional ranks of power and influence, they are not women whose experience is the privilege of class, the best schools and uptown connections. They are women whose life circumstances could have defeated them but didn't, who chose to respond to adversities and violence with courage and conviction often risking their own lives. Women who have clearly stated that the violence cannot continue and have committed their lives to changing their communities. I cannot do justice to their stories and lives but honour them and thank them for who they are, how they live and what I can learn from them.

The day ended at a more formal event organised by the Bureau of Women's Affairs and the team that is responsible for the most recent project at DRF - The Way Out. It was truly a celebration of women, with greetings and speeches from many, performances from community theatre groups and dancers, and supported by many incredible Jamaican artists recognising the role strong women have played in their lives. It was energising and uplifting and brought the crowd to its feet many times.

The three days spent at the CUSO-VSO Gender Workshop was time well spent. With other volunteers, representatives from CUSO-VSO Latin America and the Caribbean, and representatives from the partner organisations with which we work, the days were spent examining the effectiveness of the training and support given to deployed volunteers, the policies and practices of CUSO-VSO and the other oganisations and the balance between promoting gender equity as a visiting worker and respecting the predominant culture of the countries and organisations in which we work. The discussions were informative and challenging and the days included much laughter and learning.
The dichotomies of Jamaica are clearly evident in the gender discussion. Within the institutional power structures men are unquestionably dominant in a society whose government and attitudes illustrate an irrefutably patriarchal and paternalistic approach, however in the family no-one wields more power and influence than Granny or Mummy! It is a country in which girls are outshining boys academically at every level, leading to a tertiary distribution of gender that is 85% female to 15% male. Middle management is fast becoming dominated by women but upper management remains the domain of men. And yet in the lower socio-economic spheres women still have children in the belief that the obligations of fatherhood will ensure they, as mothers, will be economically supported despite consistent evidence to the contrary. Regardless of socio-ecomomic level many women still define themselves within the context of their relationship to a man, the absence of a consistent and ecomonically supportive male figure being seen as a failure of the woman.
It is complicated and discussions are fraught with cultural and social pitfalls but this did not seem to deter the discussions within the safety of the workshop and it was as stimulating few days.
Ash Wednesday offered an opportnity to head to the beach mid-week and spend a lovely and relaxing day with friends. We were not the only ones who felt a day at the beach was a good way to spend a holiday and it was fun to run into other friends, be entertained by music from the local community festival at an adjacent beach and watch the universality of children's play in the sand and sea!

At the end of the week we received extremely encouraging news. The Ministry of Education has prepared the cheque to support the School Suspension Intervention Programme until the end of the school year and asked to meet to develop a plan for continued partnership. At many levels this suggests good reason for optimism. The students will continue to have a safe and respectful place to go to when suspended from school and the continued opportunity to develop different strategies to resolve conflicts, the schools will continue to benefit from the approaches promoted by the Peace and Justice Centres which will contribute to institutional change in the schools, and the Youth Peace Facilitators will continue to be remunerated for their dedication to learning, teaching and supporting. The major focus of my placement here has been to institutionalise the youth programme through sustained funding, refinining the programme and broader access across the island, and the news at the end of the week suggests this has the potential to be achieved.
So I approach next week with that note of optimism and will focus on the work with the Ministry of Education and spending moretime with the Burgher Gully Project.