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.