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.