Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cloudless skies

The week has gone quickly absorbed by time at the Burgher Gully Project, 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution planning and ending with greeting the new CUSO-VSO arrivals as five more volunteers join our growing team. The days have started with cloudless skies, a delightful beginning to each day.

The Burgher Gully Project is fast drawing to a close and I spent time with the group and with individuals this week. I am interviewing each of the youth to explore what has been the most important aspect of the programme for them, what should have been there that wasn't and what will be next.
I completed six interviews and already themes are emerging. The most important aspect appears to have been providing a safe and productive place for them to go in a community in which their alternative is hanging out on the corners. Access to adults whose focus is their best interest and whose attention is the development of additional skills for the participants is also emerging as important. We have not provided enough remedial help for reading, a critical learning for the programme as many of the youth are functionally illiterate.
Of interest to me was that of the six youth I have interviewed, five perceived themselves as having "completed" high school with either a Grade Nine high school certificate or a Grade 11 high school certificate and only subsequently discovered that this level of education was of little or no value in advancing to gainful employment given their literacy level. Of the six the one young woman I interviewed was clear and articulate about her gains. She has moved from hiding in her house and not interacting with anyone to attending every day and being ready to go and further her education. She is one of the few with CXCs (the national exam that provide "subjects") Having "subjects" is an acknowledged indicator of school success and has the potential to open some job doors. She is now feeling more confident and next week will complete application forms for various taining programmes, jobs and volunteer exeriences.
Another emerging theme is the propensity for the staff to do things for the youth as opposed to encouraging the youth to do things on their own with the support of the staff. For example the Assistant Youth Peace Facilitator has created a resume for each youth rather than getting each youth to develop his/her own resume. This is a theme I will explore with the staff as it is critical we teach the youth to take initiative and ask for support.
Taking initiative is not promoted in the education system here, with a much higher value placed on compliance, and that is a subject that could be explored from the perspective of the impact on the functioning of the Jamaican society!
I am feeling there are some clear directions in which I can re-write and improve the programme to submit for funding from UNICEF and other funders and foundations. So much to do, so little time!

The 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution is moving forward. From months of inactivity and frustration on my part at my inability to get those committing to tasks to actually do them, the urgency of the time crunch (the conference is scheduled for April 28, 29, 30) seems to have motivated everyone. Two weeks ago I articulated my concern that we really were not going to pull this off. However, significant gains have been made this week, speakers confirmed, participants signed up, budget plan finalised, conference bags ordered,the conference team expanded. We still need 450 participant days to be paid for to cover the budget but the CEO is optimistic this will be achieved. This exercise has been the most graphic demonstration of the dissonance between my planning methodology and expectations and the DRF organisation cultural norm! It has challenged my ability sustain a facilitative role. It has challenged one of my learnings from the last eighteen months, that in Jamaica if the decision is to do something it will get done, despite all appearances otherwise and the apparent impossibility to pull it off. But the week has enabled me to retrieve my faith and I am now almost convinced we will pull this off!
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Last evening was spent enjoying dinner and conversation with the new volunteers who had arrived over the last four days. They come from Ghana, Trinidad/Tobago, and the east and west coasts of Canada. Their enthusiasm and curiosity about the contribution they will be able to make to the organisations they are joining was delightful. They bring expertise in human rights, human resources, court management services and victim support. It was interesting for those of us who have been here for a while to have an opportunity to share some of our learnings and experiences, however, it was also a reminder that new volunteers are arriving because some of us are preparing to leave. I find much of my work and discussion is now framed by transferring responsibilities to others and ensuring that my transition does not impact the potential of the work to continue to move forward. As yet there is no Youth Advisor identified to assume my responsibilities, but there is a great Youth Programme team whose commitment will facilitate continuity.

Therein lies the essence of my week. Each day has started with a cloudless blue sky, unusual here as typically there are clouds amassing either over the mountains or over the sea even at the beginning of the day, in the dry season often to dissipate. The morning brings cooler air until the sun rises over the mountains, but by 7:30 as I am walking from Crossroads south east down Camp Road directly into the rising the sun it is already burning hot. The late morning and early afternoon often brings strong hot breezes that offer a little reprieve from the heat of the mid-day sun when shadows are almost non-existent The mango trees are now laden with fruit, trees that have blossomed begin to show new foliage as the summer takes hold. Birds and butterflies and mosquitoes are prolific. The fruit vendors offer bags of sweet apples, star apples, sour sop and naisberries as they wander up and down between the traffic. Every other day there is the late afternoon deluge, sometimes where I am but often in the near distance. The rain can be remarkably localised, drenching one area and missing another completely. I can frequently avoid the deluge by route or timing. I have also acquired the Jamaican habit of not going out into the rain, though not going in if caught in the rain. My umbrella returns as my steady companion, and I have acquired some skill in determining at the beginning of the day if it will be a day that brings rain or not. And as more evidence of having become a part of this wonderful place my walk to and from work always includes greetings and chats with familiar faces, often students who have been at the programme who greet me as "Auntie Jacquie" and assure me as we chat, that they are keeping out of trouble! There is much I am going to miss.

Next week I will continue with interviewing the youth at the Burgher Gully project and moving all the areas in which I am involved into transition planning. Six weeks seems little time to wrap up all that I have been involved in here, and also feels like too little time left!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fish Fry, funding and the future...

A diverse week, touching base with various different projects and back to the task of finding funding. Much of what I am engaged with at the moment is positioning things for the future which serves to remind me of close how it is to the time at which I will no longer live here.

Negotiations with the Ministry of Education continue. The funding for the youth programme is assured until the end of July and the discussions have illustrated that MOE has been quite creative in enabling this funding. Support has come from several people and particularly one young man at the Ministry who has diligently worked through, and continues to work through, the bureaucratic maze to make sure the funding is flowed. There are still hoops to jump through however slowly but surely the cheque is getting closer to the DRF bank account! The next disucssions are about securing funding for the integration of the programme on a long term basis.
In the meantime the programme continues to operate, with a particularly busy period for the Spanish Town programme. There is much unrest in Spanish Town at the moment with one of the gangs being very active and violent. Although the students may not be attached to the gang, the increased tension in the community increases tensions and anxiety throughout and both school personnel and students tend to be more reactive, resulting in increased incidents and altercatons and increased suspensions.
In the midst of this one of the headlines in the Gleaner early in the week when reporting on the upcoming fiscal year, reported that the largest budget cuts will be in the education budget. Reducing access to education and support for children and youth seems a very shortsighted strategy in a country that has experienced quickly increasing incidents of violence in schools, high number of suspensions and expulsions, and significantly reduced success levels in the last number of years. The government's perspective on education is critical and how it distributes its budget illustrates its priorities. Education and youth are clearly not on the agenda as a priority for the current Jamaican government.

The Parents' Places proposal for implementation is being refined by Parenting Partners Caribbean in the hopes that the government and UNICEF will continue to support the initiative having funded the development of the concept. It would be disappointing to see the tremendous work that has been invested in developing the concept go to waste for lack of support to put it on the ground. The level of commitment from the group of people who have come together over the last three months continues to be high and with a quite modest additional investment the beginning of a potentially successful approach could be made a reality so there is reason for optimism.

The computers funded as part of the Burgher Gully project arrived this week and will be one of the long term legacies of the project. The computer lab was buzzing with activity when I visited the centre and not only will this give computer access to the youth involved in the programme it will allow the Peace Centre to operate an accessible computer lab for the local community.
On Friday the Burgher Gully youth hosted a fish fry at Eastern Peace Centre to raise funds for their final retreat. The youth were responsible for planning, marketing and helping with the cooking and serving so had the opportunity to learn many skills. The fry was successful, though given the nature of the community there was a fair amount of "credit" extended as people came to the centre for their lunch or dinner! The accounting will be done next week as we meet and make plans for the final two weeks of the project and evaluate the success of the project. I am continuing to write proposals to build on the beginning the project has made and hope to submit them in the next couple of weeks.

Already one of the secondary outcomes of the project has already materialised, the Eastern Peace Centre has become an active and vibrant hub in this volatile community and the computer lab will assist in this continuing. One of the local "informal community leaders", who has a role in managing the space, is there daily endorsing the establishment of peace and supporting the youth to engage in constructive and productive community involvement.

The Manatt/Dudus enquiry continues with Prime Minister Bruce Golding currently being questioned. The level of cynicism increases as the enquiry progresses! It would appear no-one believes the truth will be told, from taxi drivers to professors, from higglers to business owners there is a consistent belief that the enquiry will cost a great deal of money, lawyers will profit, nothing will be learned or gained and no-one will be held accountable! It is, however, the number one topic of conversation and continues to be broadcast daily on radio and television.

My week ended at the 60th birthday celebration of a colleague and friend from DRF. It was lovely to be included in the celebration and to be part of the group of close friends and family gathered to recognise and honour her for the wonderful woman she is. There was much conversation about the changes that Jamaica and Jamaicans have experienced over the last 60 years, and much laughter about the outfits worn in the sixties when we were teenagers! It seems Mary Quant even influenced teenagers in Kingston and acquiring and managing mini-skirts in this very conservative country took some creativity! It was a wonderful evening and the friendship will extend well beyond my tenure here.

Next week will be focused on linking with key personnel at the Ministry of Education and a concerted effort at finalising the planning for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Celebrating Women, recognising gender

Given the Centenary of International Women's Day the focus this week has been on women, but also gender. The topic promotes active and animated discussions in this country in which gender roles are so clearly defined and yet so complicated. It was a week in which I had little time at the Youth Programme as three of the five days were spent at workshops and one day was a holiday - Ash Wednesday but at the end of the week we did receive significant news from the Ministry of Education - the cheque is waiting to be picked up!

International Women's Day was celebrated with recognitions and music, stories of sadness and remarkable achievements. I started the day at the Violence Prevention Alliance Jamaica which chose to dedicate its monthly meeting to the recognition of eight women who have had remarkable impact on their communities. Each was given the opportunity to tell her story and each story was a testiment to strength, determination, quiet leadership, and the unflinching will to defeat the violence surrounding her. These are not women who have joined the traditional ranks of power and influence, they are not women whose experience is the privilege of class, the best schools and uptown connections. They are women whose life circumstances could have defeated them but didn't, who chose to respond to adversities and violence with courage and conviction often risking their own lives. Women who have clearly stated that the violence cannot continue and have committed their lives to changing their communities. I cannot do justice to their stories and lives but honour them and thank them for who they are, how they live and what I can learn from them.

The day ended at a more formal event organised by the Bureau of Women's Affairs and the team that is responsible for the most recent project at DRF - The Way Out. It was truly a celebration of women, with greetings and speeches from many, performances from community theatre groups and dancers, and supported by many incredible Jamaican artists recognising the role strong women have played in their lives. It was energising and uplifting and brought the crowd to its feet many times.

The three days spent at the CUSO-VSO Gender Workshop was time well spent. With other volunteers, representatives from CUSO-VSO Latin America and the Caribbean, and representatives from the partner organisations with which we work, the days were spent examining the effectiveness of the training and support given to deployed volunteers, the policies and practices of CUSO-VSO and the other oganisations and the balance between promoting gender equity as a visiting worker and respecting the predominant culture of the countries and organisations in which we work. The discussions were informative and challenging and the days included much laughter and learning.
The dichotomies of Jamaica are clearly evident in the gender discussion. Within the institutional power structures men are unquestionably dominant in a society whose government and attitudes illustrate an irrefutably patriarchal and paternalistic approach, however in the family no-one wields more power and influence than Granny or Mummy! It is a country in which girls are outshining boys academically at every level, leading to a tertiary distribution of gender that is 85% female to 15% male. Middle management is fast becoming dominated by women but upper management remains the domain of men. And yet in the lower socio-economic spheres women still have children in the belief that the obligations of fatherhood will ensure they, as mothers, will be economically supported despite consistent evidence to the contrary. Regardless of socio-ecomomic level many women still define themselves within the context of their relationship to a man, the absence of a consistent and ecomonically supportive male figure being seen as a failure of the woman.
It is complicated and discussions are fraught with cultural and social pitfalls but this did not seem to deter the discussions within the safety of the workshop and it was as stimulating few days.
Ash Wednesday offered an opportnity to head to the beach mid-week and spend a lovely and relaxing day with friends. We were not the only ones who felt a day at the beach was a good way to spend a holiday and it was fun to run into other friends, be entertained by music from the local community festival at an adjacent beach and watch the universality of children's play in the sand and sea!

At the end of the week we received extremely encouraging news. The Ministry of Education has prepared the cheque to support the School Suspension Intervention Programme until the end of the school year and asked to meet to develop a plan for continued partnership. At many levels this suggests good reason for optimism. The students will continue to have a safe and respectful place to go to when suspended from school and the continued opportunity to develop different strategies to resolve conflicts, the schools will continue to benefit from the approaches promoted by the Peace and Justice Centres which will contribute to institutional change in the schools, and the Youth Peace Facilitators will continue to be remunerated for their dedication to learning, teaching and supporting. The major focus of my placement here has been to institutionalise the youth programme through sustained funding, refinining the programme and broader access across the island, and the news at the end of the week suggests this has the potential to be achieved.
So I approach next week with that note of optimism and will focus on the work with the Ministry of Education and spending moretime with the Burgher Gully Project.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Peace Week

This week is Peace Week, though for the whole month particular attention is focused on gaining peace in Jamaica, and I attended two events of a completely different nature to promote peace and an undertanding of the violence in Jamaica. I also attended events to invite funding proposals and a wonderful dance performance presented by the Jamaica Dance Umbrella, an annual event dedicated to the memory of Professor Rex Nettleford.

The first event to promote peace was at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus and was a lecture presented by the Violence Prevention Alliance to celebrate Professor Barry Chevannes, a well-loved, respected and tremendously dedicated UWI professor who died late last year. I had the opportunity to get to know him a little when involved in planning last year's Peace Event sponsored by the Violence Prevention Alliance. Professor Chevannes tirelessly worked towards establishing peace in Jamaica through academic pursuits, through music and through every facet of his life. He was confident that Jamaica can attain peace and realise its tremendous potential. The lecture was a series of presentations from various perspectives but all reflected the optimism that Professor Chevannes demonstrated. From the story of Trench Town told by one of my colleagues at DRF showing changes over 4 years that led to no murders in the community in 2010, to a programme developed for primary school children in which those children needing the greatest support participate in an enrichment programme based on resiliency principles and delivered by volunteers, younger (university students) and older (recent retirees). The stories illustrate what can be done with community-based, inexpensive interventions and the key seems to be supporting community ownership.
The other two presentations illustrated that there is still a long way to go. The Women's Media Watch presented a powerful edudrama on the victimisation of young women and local human trafficking. Raising awareness that as a result of the informal "war" boundaries between communities young women can be moved from one community to another, even if they are in very close proximity, and ostensibly "disappear" from their families. The lecture was concluded by a presentation by Dr Elizabeth Ward, a wonderful physician who dedicates more time and energy to working on peace than seems humanly possible. As a physician, she saw the results of the violence and became determined to make a difference, not only in assisting to heal the wounds but to focus on preventing the wounds through a public health approach. She has recently promoted the use of GIS mapping to illustrate and inform how to develop prevention plans.

The second event was the Peace Advocacy Event at the Eastern Peace Centre. Through the connections of the Youth Peace Facilitator a number of well known local artistes committed their time to performing and many local schools were invited. The youth involved in the Burgher Boyz Project had spent a great deal of time and energy tidying and sprucing up the Centre for the event. Their ambition was to host a day long event that would bring students through the day and other community members into the evening. As is typical there was a huge sound system shipped in and a DJ who had also donated his time. The sound emanating from the centre attracted many people to come and explore what was going on, though the down side was that for those of us who have not yet accommodated the propensity to incredibly loud music, it was dififculty to talk with others! This was the first time the youth had developed an event and it was interesting to struggle with using it both as an event and a learning experience. We will talk about the successes and the challenges next week as they apply the learnings from this to the employment expo they will be planning for two weeks from now. I left them to continue on into the evening and celebrate bringing the community together peacefully.

The two calls for proposals for funding, one from Jamaica Social Invetsment Fund (JSIF) and the EU, the other from USAID, whilst opportunities, both illustrated some of the flaws and difficulties presented by international development funding.
The application process for the EU funds made available through JSIF is so onerous the organisations and communities for whom the funds are targeted find it impossible to meet the demands and access the funds. This has led to a significant amount of funding being unallocated with only nine months left for use of the funds. JSIF has recognised the problem however they are unwilling to modify or change the application process to enable orgnisations to access the funds.
The USAID funds are small grants for projects that will promote community policing. Community policing is an important initiative in Jamaica where the relationship between the police and civil society is far from trusting and Jamaica has the dubious reputation of having one of the highest rates of extrajudicial police killings in the world. The funding initiative is commendable, US$5000 for small and informal community groups to engage in a community policing project. The launch for this was however uptown in one of the high end Kingston hotels, an unlikely place to attract small, informal commnity groups to learn about the grants, as well the use of the money will be incredibly highly controlled with vendors and approved projects being controlled by with USAID or the local police.
The reason for the onerous processes and control of international development money is clear. Too much of the money gets wasted through corruption or mismanagement but it seems somewhat counter productive to put in measures that then make the funds inaccessible to those whose benefit they are supposed to support.

Still no formal confirmation that the Ministry of Education will fund the School Suspension Intervention Programme (the bureaucracy works slowly) but there are assurances that we do not have to be concerned and must continue to operate the programme. At one level this is not completely reassuring but to be able to continue to offer the programme is very important and the indicators positive that it will be supported at least until July.

The week ended with attending a dance performance at UWI's theatre. The theatre is a wonderfully intimate space with a huge dance stage though marred somewhat by being airconditioned to refrigeration levels! It was a fantastic performance with companies both from Jamaica and the US. In his introduction to the performance, Kenneth Ormsby, the artist in residence and a Jamaican currently based in Toronto, noted that Jamaica is rated as the fifth most artistically creative place in the world, a statistic that resonates with all one experiences here.

It has felt like a full week and my activities range far in this small city! Next week will be less far ranging as much of it will be spent attending training and planning events for gender issues and the week will be punctuated by a mid-week holiday, Ash Wednesday.