It has been a week of reflection but also a week in which new things have been started. Much of the week was spent at the Peace Centre, pulling together reports on my work in progress so that it can continue without interruption but I also spent two days working with the group of people who will implement Parents' Places, bringing them another step closer to realisation. The week provided a reminder that Jamaica is subject to the vagaries of nature as an earthquake shook many awake at 4:30 one morning.
Writing the final report for CUSO-VSO provided the opportunity for me to reflect on all that I have had the privilege of being involved in whilst here. The scope of activities has been broad and the number of people with whom I have had the opportunity to work has been large. From community-based initiatives to system-wide processes and from meetings with Ministers to working with youth, the opportunities have been far reaching. The report writing has served to remind me how many dedicate their work and how much effort is being put into improving the situation for those who are vulnerable. So many people are committed to making things different. The efforts are many and varied. I have been extremely fortunate to be invited to participate in so much and learn so much about this remarkable country.
The work people do is not easy and it is made more difficult by the lack of leadership from the government. As the country moves into an election year there is much discussion about the broken political system and ineffective bureaucracy. These are arenas in which it is acknowledged that change is urgently required but it would be naive to think that an easy task.
However, despite the barriers, there are changes and with concerted effort and a lot of creativity, pockets of change occur and improvements are made. I think Parents' Places will be one of the initiatives that will have the potential to create change. Not only because a network of community based parent resource centres, with information, support and parenting education has the potential to improve parenting practices, undoubtedly an important goal, but also because of the nature of the proposed network. A network of many small resource centres, each reliant on their own resources and supported by a structure that is aligned to support the community ownership of the centres has the potential to engage many and forge new relationships. The process so far has shown that people are willing to commit their time despite the absence of the National Parenting Support Commission, which the government has yet to create despite three years of commitment, planning and funding. The group working now has decided to move ahead and support the implementation of the first Parents' Places, rather than wait any longer. It will require considerable work but the individuals and their organisations have committed the time and the work has started. We spent 2 days this week working together to create a realistic implementation process given the limitations. It was a remarkable two days, in which the concepts and tools of implementation planning were taken, integrated and applied not only to the task at hand but also to other initiatives these individuals are involved in. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with people here!
With the Easter holiday over students are back at school and exams are starting. This leads to a drop in the number of students at the suspension programme and also demands much negotiation with schools to allow those who are suspended to take exams. It is interesting to see the difference in attitudes amongst schools, some that make every effort to enable the students to take the exams and others that are willing to jeopardise the entire school year for a student by lack of compromise and support. There is much discussion with the students to help them understand the part they have played in jeopardising their school year however, there is too much at stake should they miss their exams and the Youth Peace Facilitators do everything they can to ensure the students sit the exams.
Early Wednesday morning brought my first experience of an earthquake of some significance. At 4:30 as I was waking there was rumbling and the apartment building shook noticeably, moving my bed across the floor several inches. There have been 2 other tremors in the time I have been here but barely noticeable. This one however was of quite a different nature! It was brief and did not cause damage but in the 10 seconds of the event I was prompted to think about the best way out of the apartment, no mean task given grilles and locks for security, and whether I should leave. Luckily that was the extent of it and I was not challenged any further, but it was a strong reminder of the fact that in addition to other challenges, Jamaica, as many of the Caribbean Islands, faces a much higher incident of natural disasters than most places in the world. However, on these perfect and glorious mornings with blue skies, cumulus clouds and seemingly endless sunshine the potential of earthquakes and hurricanes seems very far away.
The week ahead will be one of goodbyes and conclusions, but will also include a brief trip to Barbados as I take advantage of proximity and cheap airfares to go and see the Bajan Brown's and visiting nephew from England. How appropriate that at the end of my time in this country of dichotomies my week will include one, the sadness of saying goodbye here and the joy of seeing family close by. I will then return after the weekend and have two days to pack up and leave and will be back in Toronto on May 19th. My next post will likely not be next Sunday but a few days later and it will be the last one from In Jamaica, for now!