Sunday, February 27, 2011

The wrong side of the Law?

A week in which the culmination of much planning led to people coming together, but no definitive word on funding from the Ministry of Education. The guilty verdict for Buju has distressed many and the enquiry into the engaging of a US law firm to lobby in the Dudus extradition is the most watched "soap opera" in the country.

The representatives from the various organisations supporting the implementation of Parents' Places came together for their second meeting. It was extremely well attended despite the absence of reminder calls, showing the extent of the commitment the partners have in trying to get the Parents' Places on the ground. The interest in effective implementation strategies is bringing a number of people to the table and the discussions are rigorous and informative. There is an emerging recognition amongst international develoment funders as well as government ministries that simply training people as an implementation strategy has not worked and many are searching for more effective strategies to ensure the limited dollars for change and new programmes provide the greatest impact. The Global Implementation Conference in August feels timely. The meeting provided a clear set of next steps both for the long term country-wide implementation as well as for the initial and immediate implementation of the first five or six Parents' Places.

On Friday all the staff and volunteers of DRF came together for the 2nd Annual Building Organisational Capacity Workshop. The partnership between DRF and CUSO-VSO brings a signficant number of resources to DRF (currently there are 7 volunteers with at least one additional one to join in the next month). This provides many opportunities but also some challenges as it is critical for the volunteers to work as a team. Given we all arrive at different times it is hard to ensure all have the same understanding of our role in the project but the annual workshops contribute to developing a common understanding. The day was not all work but provided a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new members of the DRF team and experience the talents of the team beyond their job requirements. Singing was as usual a dominant part of the day with a re-worded rendition of One Love (the Marley classic, with apolgies to Bob) to ONE TEAM, and a performance from our Flanker, Mo-Bay colleagues, The Flanker Folk, to end the day. Over 60 people attended and the level of participation in discussions and the material that came from the dicsussions suggest it was a very successful day.

The news that BUJU had been found guilty of drug and weapons charges in the US brought a strong reaction. There is concern that Jamaica's young men get targeted as a result of their reputation, and a strong sense that they do not get a fair hearing. Buju is an artiste with a very large following, seen to be one of the major performers bringing Jamaica's talent to the attention of the world and the reality that he faces a lengthy incarceration has angered many. The trial has raised many of the issues that Jamaicans must face, the reality that drugs and guns are a significant element of the lives of many young men, the impact of the inflamatory lyrics performed by Buju a decade ago and the reputation that a number of Jamaicans are preceived as ignoring the laws of the US, the UK and Canada not only in the spheres of guns and drugs but also within the context of immigration, work permits and visitor requirements. These are issues that not only affect the young men who may be involved in illegal activity but all Jamaicans who experience greater difficulty in acquiring visas and increased costs and a heavier requirement of proof of legitimacy when they wish to visit or migrate to another countries. The burden of the reputation created by the few is unfairly carried by the many.

The other major news story is the Mannatt-Dudus Enquiry which is offering great oratory but remarkably little information! The careful or simply evasive responses from those being questioned do more to confirm the skepticism and distrust generally felt about the government and politicians than offering candid even if damaging responses. No-one doubts there were attempts to ensure the links between Mr Coke and both poltical parties would be kept far from the public eye, but perhaps there was a glimmer of hope that a fresh start could be made if the truth was shared at the Enquiry. Such has not been the case.

Next week is Peace Week and I am hoping I can devote most of my time to youth programme activities, not the least of which will be pushing hard for a positive decision from the Ministry and the Peace Advocacy Event at the Eastern Peace Centre on March 4th.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Looking beyond today

This has been a week focussed on looking beyond today, for the Burgher Gully Project, for DRF, for Parents' Place and for the Youth Programme. My week seems to have been devoted to making plans to help sustain programmes that have recently been developed or are at risk.

The Burgher Gully youth are busily preparing for their Peace event next week. I did not have enough time to spend with them through the week, not from the perspective of their need - my contribution at this point is quite unimportant - but from my perspective! It is such a pleasure to spend time with them at the Eastern Peace Centre but my time at the moment is better spent seeing if I can generate additional funds to consolidate the gains and add further capacity so I am back to proposal writing.

The 2nd Annual DRF Building Organisational Capacity Workshop will occur on Friday and Saturday next week (February 25th and 26th). The usual last minute planning is taking place, but in discussion with others the plan for the meeting has been developed and circulated, the venue secured, facilitators engaged, the resources identified and everyone invited. In addition to the planning and discussion that takes place it is the one time in the year when all those connected to DRF get a chance to come together so it is important in terms of team building and engagement. It will be good to see members of the organisation whom I have not seen since last year.

The Parents' Place initiative continues to move forward with a very helpful response from those who attended the January meeting. Much work has been done in the intervening month and our planning on February 23rd should lead to the establishment of a country wide support system to assist implementation and sustainability, as well as an interim process to support the development and implementation of five centres by March 31st. The planned network of small community-based and run parenting resource centres could be an important tool in shifting the style of parenting from one that is dependent on punishment (including corporal punishment) to one that is more aligned with better informed parenting skills.
Following last week's meetings we had the opportunity to meet with several senior staff of the Ministry of Education regarding the demise of the School Suspension Intervention Programme.The meeting was timely as the Sunday Gleaner had carried a front page article on the number of students being suspended from school! Although the refrain from the beginning of the meeting was "there is no money" the Ministry seemed more open to exploring the possibility of redirecting existing pockets of funding, but only short term. This led to a meeting the next day at which the budget and programme proposal for the next five months was presented in the hopes that at least funds for this will be found immediately. Any extension allows more time to continue to solicit longer term funds. We should hear next week whether we have a reprieve and thanks to the Gleaner for bringing the issue into the public spotlight.
The stark reality of the decisions and priorities of the Jamaican government is apparent. Jamaica has relied upon international development agencies to invest in and develop programmes for the vulnerable. However, it seems that the sustaining and further development of those programmes, however successful, is not a priority for this government. Constraints and conditions imposed by the IMF as a result of further loans are concentrating funds through tight channels and limiting the capacity of partnerships between NGOs and Ministries. Projects funded by donors whose sustainability was built on government participation are now at risk and to add to the difficulties, in the post 2008 world of international funding, Jamaica is not considered a "poor" country. The vulnerable here are increasingly dependent on their own government to take responsibility for improving the quality of life for all and it is clear that this is not a responsibility that this government is willing to fulfill. The unwillingness of the leadership, both political and bureaucratic, in Ministries such as Education and Youth to insist that children become a priority is contributing to the increasing challenges faced by schools, teachers and others whose focus is to support the healthy development of children in this country. Jamaica provides an example of what happens when those elected use the power vested in them to address their own agenda and priorities rather than sound governance and management for all.
Perhaps my frustration is heightened by the limited time left to me to contribute my full attention to working here. It is such an absorbing and exciting place to be, with so much to offer those of us that come here. Where there may be an absence of response from those in power there certainly isn't a lack of response closer to the ground and working with those delivering services continues to be completely engaging and gratifying.

Given all that is going on next week the weekend has been spent at home preparing the necessary pieces. Today however I will make time to socialise as a friend from Ontario, for whom Jamaica is originally home, is returning briefly and lunch is planned at Devon House, which will be a delightful interlude. Devon House is a lovely 19th Century House that is now open to the public It is situated at one of the busiest intersections in New Kingston but the lush lawns, wonderful old knarled and twisted trees, and quiet courtyards provide a haven of peace easily accessible to all. It is a favourite spot for a Sunday afternoon picnic or just a quiet moment to sit under tree and read.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The week has been one of extreme contrasts from one place to another, from cold to hot, from optimism to concern and at the end of the week I am left with a sense of appreciation for the opportunities that continue to present themselves.
On Monday I was in my old neighbourhood at Yonge and Eglinton to work with the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, the Rick Hanson Institute and representatives from 6 health centres across the Canada all committed to ensuring the work they support provides the best outcomes for both those doing the work and those for whom the work is being done. It was energising to participate in the active discussion, learn more about the people for whom the National Implementation Research Committee will be providing support and to develop the steps to move forward with an exciting project. The work will be engaging, but it will not be in Jamaica, which brings me to looking at the conclusion of my time here, with very mixed feelings!

On Tuesday morning, bright and early, I left Toronto and temperatures of -15C and arrived four hours later in Kingston to embrace the noise, chaos and warmth of 30C. My first stop was the Eastern Peace Centre where the youth and staff were on lunch break from a busy morning. There was lively conversation over curry goat with rice and peas. The group is currently split into two with one group working at a local carpenter's shop building domino tables and the other planning the March 4th Peace Event. In four weeks this motley group of "bad" boys and girls have arrived on time daily, shared their experiences and their dreams and are now working as cohesive, constructive and productive groups. I was curious as to whether their behaviour in the community is showing any change. I asked the community representatives volunteering at the programme, albeit this is not an objective opinion, the answer was an unhesitating yes. The community is experiencing these youth quite differently, they no longer hang out on the corners of the zinc alleys but gather at the Eastern Peace Centre, whether the programme is operating or not. They are seeking out adult advice and support and are asking about what can be next for them. Although the answer was not an objective one given the pride of the community representatives for the programme, these new behaviours are evidenced and as such demonstrate some level of change.
The local MP came good on his promise at the launch and has made available weekly swimming lessons at the National Stadium Pool. The entire group goes down on a Thursday morning and everyone is learning to swim!
All this for less than $2000 ($170,000JA) per week. Included in this cost, these funds provide employment for two people, business for a local cook shop which does the catering for the programme and brings skilled entrepreneurs in the community to the youth. Seems like a pretty good return on investment.

Thursday provided another set of contrasts from discussion at the Ministry of Education to discussion with the Youth Programme Team. The first appointment of the day was to meet with the Advisory Team for Creating Safe Places to Learn. The project evaluation is now complete and confirms that the programme operated by DRF is effective and valuable. The meeting was to discuss the Infusion Plan, whereby the programme will continue under the auspices of the Ministry of Education with DRF providing the School Suspension Intervention Programme. As the discussion of an Memorandum of Agreement proceeded it became evident the Ministry was omitting to recognise that, as of February 28th, there is no funding for the SSIP, an issue DRF has been grappling with, in discussion with the MoE for over a year. Without funding the programme cannot be provided. Those of us from DRF interjected this stark reality into the conversation and received a more positive response than has ever been forthcoming from MoE. In the face of being reminded that the international funder, UNICEF, had extended their funding of the programme for two years in good faith that the MoE would honour their commitment to assume the programme if it was proved effective, the Ministry seemed to understand their responsibility. It is a long way from getting a cheque by February 28th but it was a great deal more positive than any response to date. The proof will be in the actions of the Chief Education Officer with whom we meet on Tuesday next week.

The afternoon was the meeting with the Youth Programme Team at which notice was given for the closure of the programme on February 28th. It was an extremely difficult meeting but illustrated the strength and commitment of the team. All said they could not see the closure of the programme in two weeks and will volunteer as of March 1st, feeling confident that DRF would find the funds at some point to pay them whatever could be found. Their investment in the youth that come from their communities and their ability to change the trajectory of the majority of them is what will sustain them. This is a group whose pay is minimal at best and who live from day to day to support their own families but are of the many here who are determined to make Jamaica a different place for their children and others. Their optimism and confidence is daunting and will support my redoubled efforts to find funding for them.

Saturday was a day to enjoy an unusually cloudless sky with a trip with friends to Lissons Beach at Morant Bay. The day was picture perfect, with glorious vistas of turquoise Caribbean Sea, lush green mountains and bustling Saturday markets as we drove through the small towns between Kingston and the beach. A few hours in the sun, swimming and relaxing and then back to Kingston to spend the rest of the weekend catching up on work that needs to be done.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Two Cities

This week has once gain seen me in two countries, two cultures and two climates as I started the week in Jamaica and ended it in Canada. The early week in Jamaica included the launch event for the Burgher Gully project and a focus on Restorative Justice and in Canada included planning for tomorrow's meeting about implementation with the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, planning for what comes after Jamaica and enjoying time with Haley and friends.
The launch event at the Eastern Peace Centre for the Burgher Gully project was delightful. Over 30 youth were present (it can no longer be called the Burgher Gully Boyz as there are 4 girls participating in the programme). Start time was 11am and the youth were ready. They had spent time during the two weeks prior painting and preparing the centre. It looked clean and tidy as did the youth. Invited to the launch were the local MP, the Regional Director for UNICEF, the CEO of DRF, local community representatives and a local artiste. Sitting in rows, quiet and attentive it was hard to understand that these are the "bad" boys and girls of the community, those that have bullied, threatened and more. Two of the boys spoke to conclude the formalities and I was struck once again about how little it takes to support these young people to change. They take advantage of the smallest opportunities, ask for so little and demonstrate time and again that given a positive alternative very few would choose the negative path into which they have been drawn. They are creative and energetic. They have reasonable ambitions and are willing to work hard. Their negative behaviour really is as a result the failure of the adults around them. It is a complex society with a long history but unquestionably the political leaders, the community leaders, the international developers have some responsibility in contributing to the lack of choices available to the youth of Jamaica. Perhaps the events this week in Egypt will inspire us to be more active and optimistic that change can be achieved.
The final presentation at the launch was a very moving song written and performed by a local artiste. I have asked permission to share it and, if I can, I will do so. The working title of the song was Faces on the Wall which refers to the tradition of painting on the garrison walls the faces of those killed through gang warfare, and the salient question - is this all we want for them?

The week was full of events to raise awareness for Restorative Justice in Jamaica and so was busy for many of my colleagues whose focus is disseminating and establishing Restorative and Community Justice in Jamaica. The events ended last night with a concert in Emancipation Park that I was sorry to miss as last year it was a wonderful event.

On Wednesday evening I flew to Toronto somewhat anxious about my ability to cope with the threatened 30 cms of snow. However the anticipated snow did not materialise and the cold has been manageable! The contrast in weather is not the only major contrast between Toronto and Kingston. The orderly, affluent appearance of Toronto, the development and growth, the efficiency and functionality, the safety and opportunity, are in marked contrast to Kingston. As Torontonians we may complain but with the objective eye of some distance, Toronto is truly an amazing city. Despite its flaws, a city that can embrace the many cultures, peoples and this climate is something to be proud of!
That being said I will have no regrets in returning to Kingston, with its warmth and challenges, on Tuesday following my day with ONF.