Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conference, curfew and caches

This week was a short week and had a holiday feel to it as schools closed mid-week for the Easter Break. Work included daily focus on re-jigging (a term apparently not typically used here!) the conference, sorting out how to bring youth to the conference when their community is under curfew and the first meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places.

The 5th Caribbean Conference continues to dominate my work and final changes were completed this week. The numbers are somewhat smaller than had been hoped for but with some re-organising the conference should not only provide many stimulating presentations and discussions but should also break even financially. With presenters and participants from South Africa, Trinidad, Barbados, Haiti, Guyana, St Lucia, North America and Jamaica the scope and international applications of ADR should well illustrated.

One of the challenges that emerged for the conference planning this week is how to include 100 youth who are scheduled to attend Day Two when their community is under curfew. The youth day of the conference is bringing together 300 youth from 10 volatile communities. It is part of a year-long project, "Young Man Nuh Linga", that DRF has been involved with funded by Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Japanese funding to reduce violence(JSIF/JAVA). The project has focused on "unattached youth" or "corner youth", terms applied to young men who are not in school or do not have legitimate employment and gather on the "corners" in the poorest communities. They can project a somewhat menacing aura and are frequently connected to loosely formed gangs with access to guns. In Rose Town the police recently put a curfew in place as the violence and gang activity had flared. This is one of the communities from which the youth are scheduled to attend so, added to the challenge of organising score of youth unaccustomed to being organised is the difficulty of getting them through the curfew barriers. This will be no mean task as the police will see many of the youth as those that they associate with the threat. In addition a significant cache of arms was recently discovered in the community and the consequence of this is yet uncertain.

The last working day of the week brought the happy occurrence of the delivery of the cheque from the Ministry of Education, 2 months late but better late than never! This provides the funding for the youth programme until July 31st and the foundation for discussion of continued funding. It has taken more time and there have been more barriers than I anticipated but I think the extension of the programme for over a year and the indication that the Ministry will fund it suggests I have achieved one of the primary goals of my placement at DRF. The programme offers a tremendous option for the increasing numbers of students being suspended from school as well as having a broader influence that offers education and modelling for a changing attitude towards youth and discipline. Being "seen and not heard", the dominant approach to children, is a short-sighted and risky approach to the largest population cohort in the country. They intend to be heard and it will be essential that they are given legitimate and productive channels through which to be heard.

The inaugural meeting of the Interim Technical Support Team for Parents' Places met this week. Seven committed individuals have come together to learn about and then support the implementation of the first Parents' Places. The applications are available for review, the process sketched out and the first intentional implementation process is being tested. Support for them will come from Parenting Partners Caribbean and the Ministry of Education has accepted that it is the logical ministry in which to ground the network of parent support resource centres. It feels very exciting to have contributed to moving this project from concept to reality and I am hopeful this will be a sustainable endeavour. I also hope I can continue to contribute with the help of Skype and perhaps the occasional return visit!

Easter Sunday morning finds me back at my apartment and enjoying a very quiet weekend in the city. Being uncertain as to what the demands might have been for conference preparation (there are only 2 working days left before the event) I chose not to make plans to go away. The city is delightful on a long weekend as it is quiet, a rare occurrence here! In a place where the weather is relatively constant this weekend has provided picture perfect Caribbean weather - endless sun, a gentle breeze in the middle of the day, glorious sunsets and warm nights. The day may yet see me find a beach for some relaxation!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Press, Parliament and conference count-down.

Another sunny Sunday morning and once again in the garden. The week has included a press launch, the resumption of Parliament, the conference, the ongoing work to support Eastern Peace Centre, the youth programme as well as a brush with bureaucracy and another volunteer farewell.

House-sitting has had the added pleasure of the company of the long-time family help from Mo-bay who came to stay for the week to take care of things during the day. Having someone stay at the house promoted me to think of a bill board past which I walk daily. It is an advertisement for a security firm and states "you are never alone". How true that is for most in Jamaica. Solitary time is something rarely experienced as always there is family or household support at home, engagement from those sharing the street if one is walking or driving, and the concern for ones safety and well being that prompts advice or instructions if walking or travelling alone. Sharing space is done with ease and comfort and seems to require little effort.

On Wednesday the Press Launch for the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution was held at the Mona School of Business, UWI. It was quite well attended and promoted both a piece in the Gleaner and radio interviews about DRF, alternative dispute resolution and the conference. As we are still struggling to register the required number of participants it is hoped that the coverage will generate some activity. By the end of the week I had re-jigged the budget and the anticipated number of attendees and found a way for the conference to break even but it will require a concerted effort over the next ten days!The press conference was strategically timed to avoid competing with the opening of parliament on Thursday and we were fortunate to achieve the coverage we wanted.

Parliament opened with great pomp and ceremony. With Guards of Honour in full dress uniform, a display of wonderful hats and outfits and much tradition, it was an elegant spectacle. The parliamentarians have received a considerable amount of criticism for their behaviour and language in the House debates and there is hope that they will act with more decorum during this session. Some things seems to be consistent regardless of country and culture! The session will be interesting as it is the beginning of the positioning for the next election and there is interest to see if the tribal politics and the relationship with the gangs will demonstrate itself differently in the next election given the changes experienced through the incursion in Tivoli.

Things have been busy at the youth programme with the number of students being suspended increasing once again. The opportunity to meet with parents as they bring their children to the programme is invaluable and, as everywhere, there is a range in the capacity of parenting skills. On Friday I was confronted with a very difficult situation, a well-educated, well-spoken parent who when asked could not find a single positive attribute about his son, and repeatedly reminded us he was a teacher and knew about development and behaviour. The level of control he maintained, even of this brief interview was quite disturbing. The son was clearly trying to engage and ask for help, something his father was clearly reluctant to allow him to do. There are so few resources here to help parents and children work through the difficult tasks of parenting in this challenging society and this exchange once again illustrated for me the enormous value that parenting support and education could provide. Parenting can be be difficult in the most peaceful and stable societies, in a society in as much turmoil and with as many contradictions as this one it is even more challenging.

Friday brought a visit to Eastern Peace Centre from a major Jamaican business man and a representative of the International Development Bank. The visit was initiated by a young woman here on a Fulbright scholarship who has regularly visited the centre in the last few months. The potential of the facility and the role it could play in the community seemed to be appreciated by these visitors and I am hopeful that if we can provide them with a clear vision and set of ambitions for the centre and possible programmes there may well be support provided. Setting up a web of linkages and pursuing every opportunity is critical. The visit has added another, but very welcome task, to my list of things to complete before I leave in the middle of May!

My brush with Jamaican bureaucracy has not yet arrived at a resolution but I am hopeful it will do so early in the week. The bureaucratic processes in Jamaica are infamous for the slow pace, intransigent control, the lack of logic and value and the complete inability to circumvent it if one is not in an influential or powerful position. In fairness, having dealt with immigration, work permits, customs, banks and utilities I have not had any difficulties until this week. But getting a package into the country is looking like quite a challenge. It is a package of minimal monetary value, a package of tokens for me to leave when I say goodbye however neither its low value or insignificance in terms of importance seems to carry any sway. The bureaucracy requires me to have Tax Registration Number and I don't have one! I am working on the alternatives but the officials with whom I am working could be commended for their steadfast and unshakable commitment to the rules, there is no help being offered from that quarter!

From mid-April to mid-may three volunteers will be leaving. The dinner to thank and celebrate the most recent returnee was at lovely group of restaurants, The Marketplace, in Kingston. It was a good evening with warmth and appreciation in abundance. It is remarkable to see the wealth of experience that these events bring together as all the current CUSO-VSO volunteers are present, and just how many people commit their time and expertise to international development.

Having had a hectic week yesterday I decided to take an evening trip to Port Royal to watch the sunset and relax in the quiet of the small sleepy town at the end of the Pallisadoes. Port Royal was known as the "wickedest and most sinful city in the world" before 1692 when much of it ended up underwater as a result of a major earthquake, an event often cited as God's retribution for the sinners. From a local waterside restaurant one can look north back over Kingston Harbour to the city and the mountains. The sun sets behind the majesty of the layers and layers of mountains which are usually adorned with clouds that change colour in the deepening dusk. It is a peaceful way to end the day and an easy drive to find some quiet close to this constantly noisy city.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the garden

The end of another week and time is going much too quickly. This week has been focused on the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution. In addition some time with UNICEF as they gather input to inform their next 5 year country plan and facilitating the ongoing work for the Building Organisational Capacity at DRF.

The 5th Caribbean Conference has continued as a source of increasing concern as the planning and promoting continues to have a level of disorganisation that is somewhat debilitating. Slowly but surely the number of registered participants is increasing and the media promotion is also planned for much activity in the upcoming week. For a stretched and struggling NGO to add to its responsibilities the planning, funding and hosting of a 3 day international conference was very ambitious. However, there is no question that it is this level of ambition and drive that has led to the success of DRF over the 16 years of its development. The passion and commitment for promoting and practising alternative dispute resolution in a country in which "resolution" of disputes has typically assumed one of two methods - escalation to violence within moments with dire consequences, or court action which takes years to achieve settlement - is truly commendable and the influence DRF has had is remarkable.

Over the last 16 years mediation and arbitration services have expanded enormously; legislation has been passed that requires all civil matters that go to the Supreme Court be diverted to mediation before being addressed in court; restorative processes and practices are being implemented in communities across the nation with the support of the Ministry of Justice; schools and communities have adopted conflict resolution education and mediation for youth; and much of this movement can be attributed to the tireless activity of the DRF and its founding Board and CEO as they have engaged partners, trained practitioners and never shied away from ambitious plans!

This year is the transition year for many international development funding agencies. The many and various branches of UN development activity, UNICEF, UN Women, UNDP and others, operate on five year funding cycles. The objectives and goals of the upcoming five years for each, country and region are developed in partnership with the governments and NGOs of the country being funded. It is an extensive planning process that is challenging when funding is diminishing and needs increasing. Narrowing the focus to one or two key areas of focus, and then developing objectives and measurable indicators takes time and a great deal of effective facilitating. It is not easy to determine what will be the key areas that may drive the most effective change processes but it is interesting and stimulating to be included in the discussions. This process will continue for another month or so and then the next round of refinement will start.

My other area of activity this week has been the DRF/CUSO-VSO five year partnership project in which all the volunteers at DRF are involved. It is time for me to pass over leadership of the process to another volunteer and in doing so help develop the next steps. The Advisory Group had a very productive discussion this week, and through reviewing activities to date recognised that there have been some significant accomplishments achieved which have laid a solid foundation for the next set of actions. There are some clear directions and areas for the next steps and some enthusiasm from both staff and volunteers to take on the changes. The process remains a source of interest for CUSO-VSO as it demonstrates a new approach to capacity building. Instead of sending an individual volunteer into an organisation focused on a single area this project has engaged a group of volunteers in one organisation and approached capacity building by developing an integrated plan working on multiple areas at one time. Over the five years the expertise of the volunteers will reflect the changing needs of the organisation. There are risks and challenges as positioning 5 or 6 volunteers within a workforce of 35 is a significant number, the transitional nature of the volunteers requires they move in and out with an intentional and effective turnover process, the volunteers involved all need to come with a level of understanding of organisational change and a willingness to work with a collective approach. The meeting this week suggested the future looks bright for the project and the commitment of the volunteer who will assume leadership is going to be very helpful.

The week has ended with me assuming house-sitting responsibilities again. I am sitting in the garden which is in full bloom. The noises, instead of cars, buses and motorcycles, are those of the birds, the tree frogs and the palm fronds clacking in the very gentle breeze. I am distracted by the humming birds and lizards whose fleeting movements keep catching my eye. The sky is a perfect azure blue without a cloud in sight and at 8 in the morning it is already hot and very bright. I wonder at the subtlety of the change of seasons here, the colour of the greens, the change of humidity in the air, the change of the breezes, the blossoms and fruits as they come and go. One of the biggest differences for me is the lack of urgency in the seasons. Where there are great changes there always feels to be some urgency to make the most of each (or for me some urgency about wishing away the season for which I have no appreciation - winter!) Where there is more constancy that urgency is not present. It is more than likely the sun will shine tomorrow, the air will be warm and whatever I have planned will be possible, not withstanding the occasional hurricane or tropical storm that may emerge between July and October! Among the many things I will miss, I will miss this tropical climate.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

From contracts to coast

Another full week with the Youth Programme, the Burgher Project and the 5th Caribbean Conference, a surprise birthday party, social time with project partners, CHAMPS, and the weekend on the north coast.

The youth programme is back in full swing again with the numbers of students attending on the rise. Developing the interim contract with the Ministry of Education has been a trying process though that they have found funding, even if only until the end of July, is remarkable given their current constraints. The advantage of the interim contract is that it gives us a basis upon which to determine the possibility for institutionalising the programme and what will be realistic. Having finally signed off on the interim funding we must now go back to the table and open discussions about a long term future plan. It may be possible to invite UNICEF back to the table which would be of great assistance.
The other direction that I must find time to explore further before I leave is discussion with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of National Security with respect to adapting the programme as a diversion programme for youth in conflict with the law. CIDA has funding set aside for the reform of the justice system which includes establishing a diversion programme and setting the wheels in motion could be a good beginning to developing another useful application of the programme.

I spent much of the week at the Eastern Peace Centre continuing the interviews with the participants and helping plan the culminating retreat. I will gather up all the information over the next two weeks and prepare a report and, I hope, additional funding proposals, to enable the improved replication of the project in other volatile communities. A key activity over the next few weeks will be to ensure the relationships with the Eastern Peace Centre and the organisations that the participants have established continue beyond the project. This will be challenging but essential in achieving a key outcome of the project. As the project was designed as a catalyst for change the proof of its success will be the activity beyond the project. That being said there is no doubt that the three months have been valued and appreciated by the participants. They have felt a sense of purpose in their days, have been stimulated by challenging discussions and experienced friendship and team work developed on a positive foundation. They have learned from the two facilitators that there is an alternative way to feel connected and useful other than being part of a gang.
The group is currently at a small, very modest hotel on the beach at Negril for their culminating retreat. The extent of their collective experience outside Kingston is the occasional visit one or two of them have had with relatives in the country. No-one has been to the north coast, no-one has been on holiday, no-one had stayed in a hotel, including the assistant Youth Peace Facilitator. Apparently the journey to Negril was a little challenging as they had not anticipated what it would feel like to drive for five hours! However there was great value in them seeing the extent and the beauty of the island upon which they live. Whatever else the weekend achieves it has already provided a new perspective for the participants - there are places beyond the zinc alleys that boundary their community and sometimes their imaginations.

Planning for the conference continues with a sustained level of activity to try to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished over the next month. Most of the pieces are in place and what we must focus on now is getting participants to register. With a month to go the registration to date sits as 20% of the required number but I have been assured that people always leave registering the to last minute and there is a level of confidence amongst the planning group that we will succeed in registering the break even number. I can confidently say this has not been the most enjoyable or rewarding of my activities at DRF though one that has promoted much personal growth as I learn to trust all will come together. I hope my contribution has been helpful!

Socially the week has also been a busy one. On Wednesday I went to a surprise birthday party which proved to be a wonderfully warm and celebratory evening. The event was engineered by the daughter of the birthday woman and in a city where there really are no secrets she managed to pull it off as a complete surprise -the last minute planning thing works in favour of certain circumstances! There were three generations of family and guests and connections across the globe, as most had worked and lived in other places but all chosen to return and settle in Jamaica. In addition to honouring a wonderful woman, the evening illustrated one of the best facets of Jamaica, "Out of Many One People", and the passionate love of the country despite the impact of the political tribalism.
Another evening was spent with colleagues from The Way Out project, the UN Women funded project in which DRF is partnering with the Bureau of Women's Affairs. There has been months of hard work to get the project on the ground but it is now moving forward with a clear plan. It was a lovely idea provide an opportunity to bring together those that have been and will be working closely on the project for a time that was for enjoying time together and not working. Good food, games and a balmy evening made for a very enjoyable time.

The city was full of flags and old school spirit this week as it was CHAMPS week. Excellence in track and field is a national trait and the Jamaica's track and field success at the Olympics is unquestionably nurtured at CHAMPS. The standards achieved at this Secondary School competition are exceptional and it generates a great sense of enthusiasm and energy that is infectious. There are parades of student as whole schools walk to the National Stadium to support their athletes, street hawkers add school flags of all colours and sizes to their wares for sale, cars display standards, adults bring out their old school ties and wear them to work. The competition is fierce but the general sense is one of festivity and celebration because for whoever wins or loses this year, there is always next year, proven by the 101 years the competition has run! Congratulations to this year's winners, Jamaica College (boys) and Homewood (girls), and to all the competitors and supporters who make it such a wonderful event.

After all the excitement of the week, the weekend finds me on the north coast, in part to work (to spend time at the culminating weekend for the Burgher Gully Project) but also to relax in Mo-Bay and enjoy a little time away from the city. The drive up was a lovely as ever as I chose the north coast road that hugs the Caribbean for over three hours between St Mary and Negril, through seaside towns bustling with Saturday market activity, the sun blazing down on a turquoise Caribbean Sea. It is a very different Jamaica from the dense urban environment of Kingston. The country looks verdant and fertile with fruit and foliage. Along the route are endless fruit stands with a colourful variety of fruit an vegetables, fish stands with crab, lobster, snapper (red and grey) parrot fish and more, and of course smokey jerk stops with the tantalising smell of barbequing chicken, pork, lamb and sausage. There is no need to go hungry if you live in the country! It is lovely to sit and enjoy the breeze, the sun, the quiet and the sea and recharge for the next week in the city.