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.

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