Sunday, January 30, 2011


The week has been strongly focused on organising and planning, though with somewhat limited success. Organising the 5th Caribbean Conference continues as one of the major tasks at DRF, supporting the Burgher Gully project and their efforts to plan a small launch event and planning the 2nd Annual Building Organisational Capacity Workshop. Most importantly, taking the best advantage of the extra month of operation of the youth programme to try and generate funding. Organising was also the topic of the Editor's Forum at the Gleaner.

Planning the 5th Caribbean Conference continues to be an enormous and somewhat worrying challenge. The vision of the conference is typically ambitious but the time and funds to plan it for success seem absent. Everything is dependent on my colleagues at DRF who are already stretched thin to fulfill exisiting responsibilities. We seem to inch closer to decisions and confirmations but time seems to be moving much faster than we are. This process is a real challenge as I experience the tension between my own culture of planning and organising and the dominant culture in Jamaica. Balancing the respect of what exists and the charge to build capacity and increase skills in the organisation is requiring much thought and consideration through this process. I am taking a lot of deep breaths and counting to a ten (or more) before I speak!

The Burgher Gully project continues to thrive, with more youth attending daily. The count by week end was 37 which prompted me to caution that quality must not suffer at the expense of quantity! However it is hard to turn young people away so we will be creative about how to ensure impact for as many as our resources can support. This week the invitations for the official 'Launch' did get out so tomorrow will see the youth host invited guests at the Eastern Peace Centre and share their hopes for the future.

At the end of February the organisation will be brought together for the 2nd Annual Building Organisational Capacity Workshop. The focus will be on supporting the service network so that the greatest potential for service delivery can be realised. Those who are members of DRF rarely ge the opportunity to come together so I look forward to planning a day that make the most of this opportunity.

With a brief reprieve for the Youth programme as a result of UNICEF flowing 2 months of additional funding, which means the staff will be paid for the work in January which they did regardless of the fact that they were aware there was no funding to pay them, means we are in high gear to push the Ministry of Education to fund the programme, as was their original commitment. The evaluation recommendation is clear, the programme is a valuable adjunct to school-based services for students demonsatrting behavioural issues, and minimally should be available to all schools in volatile commmunities. Now all that is left is to get the Ministry to fulfill its responsibility and find the very small amount of funding requried to continue the programme.

Across the country there continues to be much debate about how to make changes that will enable Jamaica to pull out of the downward spiral it appears to be experiencing and realise the enormous potential it holds. At the 10th Editor's Forum at the Gleaner the speakers spoke of the need for the population to organise in order to demand change in the political process and the performance of the politicians. From improving the education system to commnity influence on the decisions that get made it was noted that there must be a higher level of involvement of the population to change the current status quo.
Professor Rosalea Hamilton, President, Micro, Small and Medium-Sized
Enterprises Alliance
Jamaicans must organise to address the range
that affect the country as owners of the country. Every Jamaican
must take
responsibility, which includes educating every child and
that people
are engaged in entrepreneurial activities that can
income so that they
don't have to turn to crime and other kinds

What a difference it would make if the population demanded accountability and limited the control of the politicians.

This morning has dawned cloudy and somewhat cooler than usual. The clouds are not the dense dark rain clouds that form over the mountains, then blow over, depositing a torrential downpour and moving on to leave the island clean and steamy.
This morning the cloud cover is high and uniform with no movement. The quality of the light is quite different and mutes the colours and somehow the noises of the awakening city. Instead of the bright, hard light of the sun as it gathers strength there is a softness to the day and a gentler feel. The thought occurs - if there were more days started like this would Jamaicans have a gentler approach to the world?

The week ahead will see me in Ontario by Thursday for a very brief and busy few days. The reason for the visit is to meet, as a member of National Implementation Research Network, with those involved in an emerging implementation project. A "cool" morning here will take on a different meaning when I am exposed once again to the frigid cold of the north!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A short week

Having flown back from Washington on Tuesday the week felt quite short. I arrived at the office at lunchtime and quickly settled back into the things that needed to be done. This week there has been more focus on the Building Organisational Change Project as the days included time to review all the CUSO-VSO team has accomplished at DRF over the last year and planning for the second annual BOC workshop. As well I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on the needs of children in court, check out venues for the 5th Caribbean Conflict Resolution Conference and work with Parenting Partners to assist in the develoment of an implementation plan.

The annual programme review required by CUSO-VSO was a lengthy process. Each volunteer had to submit a report describing the activity and impact of the work completed. Much has been done and some accomplishments achieved between us though desigining, implementing and supporting organisational change in a climate of no resources is extremely difficult. I am lucky as my position includes direct work with youth and the staff in the programme and the impact is more immediate and identifiable. It was good to take stock and look to what is next. However, it did remind me that my time here is limited and change for me looms closer than I like to think about.
We are also planning for the 2nd Annual Building Organisational Capacity Workshop which brings together all stakeholders involved at DRF. Last year's workshop was a resounding success so we have a high standard to match or perhaps exceed!

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) with the support of the EU sponsored a lecture to promote awareness of the needs of children who attend court. The children who attend court are without exception victims of violence and the current experience re-victimises them. There is much work occurring to improve this to which a previous volunteer contributed significantly. Using models and programmes available in Canada and other coutries she developed a draft manual for use by those involved with children at court. The programme will be rolled out by another volunteer over the next year and has the potential to have a very positive impact for children attending court. There was lively discussion following the presentations and clearly there is work to do at the Child Development Agency (the agency charged with the protection of children) and the Office of the Children's Advocate, but by bringing the issues into the public arena JFJ is helping to ensure action is taken.

Planning for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Conflict Resolution is moving along, though not as quickly as it might need to! I keep reminding myself that in Jamaica these things always seem to come together admirably by the appointed date but it is certainly anxiety provoking. The venue has been decided upon - The Jamaica Conference Centre. It is a beautifully located venue looking out over the harbour. As with most things here it is a little worn and suffers from the lack of funds to keep it pristine but the common spaces and gathering areas are bright and open to the fresh air coming over the sea, their are lovely fountains and gardens. The meeting rooms are formal and will pose a bit of a challenge but it would be good to support the centre rather than use a hotel.

The work I am doing with Parenting Partners is very interesting. The concept developed for the Parents' Places that communities will have the opportunity to provide is a sound and ambitious concept. Its promotion of community ownership has potential to influence greatly the parenting support provided, and align it with the particular needs of a community in partnership with other organisations in each community. It was exciting to see the participants at the implementation consultation recognise the importance of carefully planning the implementation process and building in adequate supports. However, given the plethora of community based organisations, government organisations and people who must be included it will be a challenge to bring into focus a manageable and helpful implementation plan. As usual the Political relationships are a significant factor to be considered. There is more work to be done but given the importance of providing parents with access to support and parenting education it is exciting work in which to be involved .

I did not get down to the Burgher Gully project this week but saw the staff and heard their enthusiasm as they plan the launch. This will be delayed a week, as in the enthusiasm for preparing the centre, painting and setting up they forgot to send out the invitations! I learned more about the community as a taxi driver I was riding with started to talk about his family and the son who lives with his baby mother in Burgher Gully. I am privileged to hear so many stories told so candidly and the contribution to my understanding of life here is invaluable.

Next week I hope to spend more time at the Eastern Peace Centre with the Burgher Gully Boyz (and girls as there are now two girls registered!) and continue on earnest with conference planning and workshop planning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zinc Alleys

Another week in which I have been involved in lots of things: the Burgher Boyz, Parents' Places, Global Implementation Conference, National Volunteer Centre and catching up with Mama Brown

One of the highlights of the week was time spent at the Eastern Peace Centre where I had the opportunity to meet the participants of the Burgher Gully project. The 22 young men had written, or drawn pictures, describing what they hope to achieve through their participation. The ambitions were not unreasonable. The focus was consistently about increased levels of skills in various things - literacy, mechanics, electrical work. Jobs are extremely hard to come by in Jamaica but many of the jobs to which the youth aspire would lend themselves to an entrepreneurial approach so I am hopeful the programme will help. In reviewing the intake forms I noticed that several of the participants had the same address. In exploring how this could be given these young people were clearly not related I was invited to visit the address on Mountainview Road. Just a little way up the road we arrived at a large church. We walked behind it to an open piece of land surrounded by zinc fences with a small alley leading off it. Behind the fences were the small, makeshift homes in which these young people live. Dividing the houses and the path into these communities are the 'zinc alleys' . The zinc alleys are formed by the 8 foot high zinc sheets that line the properties.The alleys are about 3 feet wide and wind through the community. Once in the alley one cannot see out, the fences are too high and the only holes in them are the holes left by bullets, or rusting disintegration that has not yet been patched. It is easy to imagine gunmen controlling these alleys and "protecting " the community defined by the don. The boundaries of the community are clear, the gully to the west, the church to the east and roads to the north and south. The alleys are poorly lit, with self-made lights holding weak light bulbs irregularly distributed down the alleys. Electricity comes from a spider web of fine wires running from a single pole out to the alleys and then into the yards and houses behind the zinc fences and water runs through hoses that branch out to the houses, some buried into the earth into the earth floor of the alley, some running down the side.
Kingston seems to have endless surprises and secrets, and the resiliency of those who live in such difficult circumstances continues to garner my enormous respect.

Mid-week Mama Brown, the woman who has taken the initiative for the Riverton women's project, came into Kingston and we had a chance to catch up. The barrels filled with donations arrived in Jamaica before Christmas but are awaiting the signature of the Minister to waive the import taxes on the goods donated. It is frustrating that the bureaucracy can move so slowly and apparently for no good reason as the forms have been at the Minister's office for a while. Mama Brown is extremely appreciative of the donations received to assist with the shipping, and sends thanks. Her trip to Ontario was a tremendous experience and she hopes to return there in the not too distant future. In the meantime she will continue to work with the women in Riverton. Riverton is a community that has developed beside the huge landfill in which Kingston's garbage is dumped and many of the women earn income from picking though the dump for scrap metal, this work is often controlled by the dons. Providing the women with a means to start small businesses will improve the quality of their lives enormously.
My other major activity during this week has been conference planning both at DRF and with colleagues in Washington. The two processes are quite a contrast given the different scale of the events. It has been delightful to see colleagues with whom most work is done through telephone conversations and email communication. The Global Implementation Conference 2011 is shaping up to be a very exciting prospect in the development of implementation science.
On my return to Kingston I look forward to facilitating a session that will help move the Parents' Places towards effective implementation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Blessed I have life."

Getting back to work after the new year has been interesting and busy. Putting on the ground the new programme recently funded by UNICEF, increasing the attention to planning the 5th Caribbean Conflict Resolution Conference in April, work on the 1st biennial Global Implementation Conference and addressing the lack of funding but commitment to delivering the youth programme have made for a challenging week . The week ended with a wonderfully relaxing weekend in Fort Lauderdale which is the reason for the delay in posting!

Implementing the Burgher Gully Project has given the opportunity to test out some of the new processes and systems that will help DRF in its planning and management development, as well as assist the Youth Peace Facilitator and Manager increase their skill level at programme development, implementation and evaluation. These are primary objectives for one area of my work here and it feels exciting to see the results begin to materialise. The assistant youth peace facilitator and cook joined our team meeting on Friday and are enthusiastic about the programme, and I should get an opportunity to meet the young men who will be participating in the programme early next week. One question posed by the assistant YPF was whether girls could be enrolled in the programme. To my question about would girls be carying guns his response was "why not?" It led to an interesting discussion as to "why not" and different environments. He found it very hard to fully understand that there are places in the world where guns are not a readilly available commodity for young people.
The planning for the 5th Caribbean Conference is happening with earnest. It will be an international conference accommodating up to 350 participants and from my perspective the planning time left is frighteningly inadequate. I keep reminding myself that in Jamaica these events always seem to be left until the last minute and always seem to be a fine success!
The week was full of greetings after the holiday. By mid way through the week I was struck with how many people answered the question "Did you have a good holiday?" with "Iam blessed. I have life"! One evening after popping into the CUSO office and hearing this response from both the Security Guard and the Janitor my thoughts turned to how low an expectation this response reflects when uttered in a tone that does not resonate with joy. To expect more than merely life would be expecting too much seems to be the implicit message, by maintaining low expectations disappointment can be avoided. Life is still such a struggle for so many, and with the level of violence in certain quarters, is often threatened. It is understandable that continued life is seen as a reason to feel blessed, but it still strikes me as a lower bar than should be set for the quality of life that should be available.

The week ended in an entirely different place - Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Saturday was spent meandering along the beach and Ocean Drive in South Beach. The colours, simple lines and understated relief of the Art Deco buildings are immensely pleasing to the eye. The sky was blue, and although the air was cool the sun was strong and the shadows dramatic. It was a glorious afternoon. The miles and miles of highway, beaches, hotels and sunworshippers that constitute the south Atlantic coast of Florida felt so far removed from Kingston.
One of the greatest contrasts however was the point of entry! It took two and a half hours from leaving the plane to clearing Homeland Security and immigration in Fort Lauderdale, on my return, in Kingston, it took fifteen minutes! It was lovely to spend the weekend in comfort and in wonderful company.

The week ahead looks to be full of interesting activities, working with those trying to put Parent Places throughout the country, supporting the start of the programme in Burgher Gully, more work with the Violence Prevention Alliance and the week will end once again in the US meeting with colleagues about the Global Implementation Conference.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 - A New Year and a friendly welcome home

2010 proved to be a year full of surprises and changes and a year spent in a remarkable place getting to know remarkable people. At the beginning of the year, having settled into my year of volunteering, I had anticipated nine months of continued work with the youth progamme at DRF and my return to Kinark to rejoin the Clinical Transformation process. However the beginning of 2011 sees me in Jamaica working not only with the youth programme but more extensively with DRF; as well with a group of people highly committed to stopping the violence and establishing peace in Jamaica through the Violence Prevention Alliance; and making linkages with those working to establish Parent Places, resource centres that will increase support and access to parent education throughout Jamaica. This is a truly gratifying, challenging and engaging combination of activities.

The last week of 2010 was spent in Barbados enjoying a wonderful time with family. The differences I noted between the two islands raised a little anxiety in me about my return to Jamaica. The peace and reserve of Barbados was a pleasant respite from extrovert and chaotic Kingston. But arriving back felt like getting home! The immigration lines were long and there was much tutting and teeth kissing as people waited but despite this the Immigration Officer greeted me warmly and politely and told me that I could go through the "Jamaican and Caricom" line next time as I am an established resident of Jamaica. As she stamped my passport I heard a voice wishing me Happy New Year, a colleague and Board member of DRF who works at the Immigration Department was walking through the hall and we exchanged greetings and chatted about the holidays. The taxi driver who typically provides me with a drive when I am going somewhere impractical to walk to, didn't answer his phone when I tried to call him but immediately called me back when he saw my number as a missed call and was at the airport within 15 minutes to pick me up. Some Jamaicans home "from foreign" to visit family over the holidays at Mountainview could not find a taxi so we offered them a ride. Mountainview is a community of which I am quite familiar as it is the home of the Youth Peace Facilitators and a community in which we have a Peace Centre. All of these served to remind me quickly of the positive aspect of extrovert Kingston. People always watch out for others, a courteous greeting is always exchanged in passing and one is always acknowledged and assistance offered unconditionally.
Jamaica is adept at making welcome those that come to contribute to this country, and although, regardless of how long I am here I would remain a foreigner, there is a warmth and appreciation in the welcome that is truly humbling.
New Year's Eve celebrations could be heard and seen across the city on Friday night. As dusk fell the firecrackers started, and how nice it was to know the cracks and flashes were celebratory and harmless instead of the not unusual gunshot that would more typically be the reason for cracks and flashes. The view from my balcony at midnight offered myriad firework displays from the magnificence of the formal display at the waterfront that could be seen in the far distance, to the displays in parks and gardens throughout the city. Up into the hills and across the plain fireworks could be seen for half an hour into the New Year and the "night noise" that is usually somewhat irritating was joyful and full of hope and optimism.

Without the security and predicatablility of returning to Kinark I have also been provided with the opportunity to explore what paths I might like to forge for the next phase of my professional life and the combination I have discovered here is very appealing. Some work directly with people in communities, some development and implementation work at the system and community level, some design and innovation work that bring me into spheres of dedicated, intelligent and creative people. I think the only piece I would like to augment it with is the opportunity to do some teaching or academic work, perhaps that too will present itself! As the new year begins and the end of my commitment in Jamaica starts to loom, my energies will be devoted to effectively concluding my work here, establishing what my continuing relationship will be to Jamaica as I cannot imgagine it will disappear from my palette of activities, and establishing what I will be doing for the forseeable future. I look forward to exploring new horizons and learning from those I meet along the way.
Very Best Wishes for 2011, may it bring you joy and fulfillment!