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.

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