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.