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.

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