This final week has been full and wonderful. I have been as busy as ever with work and also had time to say many goodbyes. This post is the last one I will write from my apartment on Old Church Road in Kingston. I hope it will not be the last post I write from Jamaica as the week has shown that there is still much to which I could contribute and many connections which will last beyond this Jamaican adventure.
Work-wise I seem to have managed a little of almost everything I have been involved in and, in the main, I am left with a feeling of gratification.
A hastily planned meeting on Monday confirmed the confidence the Ministry of Education has in the Youth Programme and I was left with the strong impression that they will institutionalise the programme and provide long-term funding as part of their student support system. Given this was one of the primary goals for my placement at DRF it is gratifying to feel it may well have been accomplished despite funding cutbacks at the MOE. I have one more task - to write the Terms of Reference for the School Suspension Intervention Programme Management Committee, the group that will be charged with managing the partnership between DRF and MOE and to develop the long term plan for the partnership. Goal #1 achieved!
Mid-week I provided implementation training for the teams that will be implementing the first seven Parents' Places. It was an exhilarating day. The teams came ready to work and by the end of the day it was evident that the concept to which I was first introduced in November will actually be on the ground within the next five months. Introducing the implementation framework has been a truly facilitating catalyst that has enabled the creators of the concept to talk to funders and providers in terms that clearly provide for a sustainable roll out. There continues to be development for the national roll out and I am looking forward to continuing to be available at least electronically, and perhaps even for the occasional consultation on-site! Parents' Places across the island have tremendous potential to provide support for parents of children of all ages and will be tailored to meet the needs of the particular communities in which they are operating.
Yesterday I went to the Eastern Peace Centre to see the progress there. It was a bitter/sweet visit as I heard that ten of the youth from the programme are now in vocational training programmes and four are headed back to school. All have got their TRN numbers (needed to get employment) and several are helping with the improvement of the Eastern Peace Centre. One however has not succeeded. He visited a couple of weeks ago and talked about his frustration in not being able to find a job. Last week he was engaged in an altercation in which he was stabbed, he then retrieved the knife and stabbed his assailant who died later in hospital. How often we tell the youth and the students that there is no such thing as a defensive weapon, that if weapons are used someone will likely be killed. This is the stark reality of the lives of too many youth here. One heated moment and life is changed forever. My heart goes out to the young, he had such simple ambitions centred on providing for his seven year old daughter. The young man is twenty.
More positively the project at the Eastern Peace Centre has led to the involvement of an established private business man and there is activity at the centre to improve the facility and develop a couple of small businesses which will provide employment within the community. The plans are achievable and the support is there as long as those involved keep focused. I have committed to helping in anyway I can through electronic communication. My proposal writing days may not be over!
I had a glorious day on Thursday as I drove out to Spanish Town to pick up a friend, the woman responsible for connecting with the women in Riverton for whom some funds were raised last December. Having picked her up we drove to her home in country, winding our way deep into Clarendon Parish climbing into the mountains. As we drove higher there were breath-taking views out over the Portmore Bight to the Caribbean Sea. The air was fresh with a cooling breeze that took the harshness of the heat out of the blazing sun. Her home is very modest with no runnning water and only brief access to electricity. Everything must be carried up the steep path to the house but once there it is a haven of peace and tranquility. We stopped a number of times on the journey; at the little shop to get water, in the village to catch up the local news, at the local primary school to talk to the principal and say hello to two of her grandchildren. At each stop there was leisurely exchange of greetings and news, no-one hurried and there was a marked concern for each other with inquiries about those who were struggling, whether the funeral planned last week had been as it should, if the child with the cast on his leg was managing well enough. I was invited in and enjoyed the privilege of being treated as one of the community. By the end of the visit I had met many people, received mangoes, oranges, grapefruit, cashew fruit, and many blessings. Country in Jamaica is a different life from city, it too has great hardships for most but the pervasive fear of violence is absent in most of the deep country communities and the gangs and powerbrokering do not play the part they do in the urban communities.
The mint tea was fresh and refreshing and the few hours atop the mountain, looking out over the many peaks and valleys to the sea, was restorative.
The weekend was spent in Barbados with my brother and his family and my nephew from England. What a contrast to life here! It was a delightful weekend spent mainly sailing in the Mount Gay Regatta, being invited into a very different life-style than the one in Clarendon, but no less welcoming and warm. The generosity of the Captain, and his family was lovely and the days spent with my brother delightful. A wise decision even though I couldn't get the super cheap flights "due to poltical and regulatory reasons"!
And tomorrow this remarkable journey ends. I will leave here taking with me so much more than I came with. It has been a journey full of lessons and learning, of meeting incredible people, of gaining an understanding of so many things for which I did not have a great enough appreciation. I will miss my life here, I will miss many of the people with whom I have found friendship and common purpose but will take with me the lasting relationships that are forged through sharing time, purpose and challenges. I cannot offer enough thanks to all who have been part of this journey and will be forever grateful for all it has given me. Nuff respec and walk good...