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.

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