Category Archives: Development Work

Social Development Insight ~ The pretence of ending poverty

magnifying_glass

Last Friday I was on my way to downtown Kingston for a meeting and noticed a black dog running at the side of the road. It was carrying a prize in its mouth. As I drew nearer I realized the prize was the carcass of a rat. The dog in its hunger was tearing it apart rapidly.

Something in me sank. I remember looking around at some of the inner-city communities I was passing through and feeling a sense of helplessness. Days earlier just close by there had been a shooting at the entrance of the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH). http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/man-shot-at-entrance-to-kph, Fast forward another 10 minutes and I’m looking at an elderly woman, unwashed, uncared for – sitting at the side of East Street staring intently at her skin and digging away at her flesh. One can only attempt to guess what is haunting her mind.

Shortly afterwards I am sitting in a cool trendy boardroom preparing to start a meeting. I am numb and haunted. Those images are re-playing in my head. I am not the only one. For another 45 minutes the four of us sat earnestly reflecting on development challenges facing Jamaica. Like development, some of these issues are deep-seated, complex, multi-faceted. They require original, out of the box critique and action. They require resolve. These are problems that have been years in the making, a melange of culture, history, politics, leadership – or lack thereof – etc etc etc. They require political will, not politicking.

A few things about our approach to social development in this country (and the rest of the Caribbean!) must change:-

  1. Social development is not a competition. It is not a competition for media attention. It is not about trumpeting the glory of one over the other. It is a battle to the death for the lives of innocent children, young people, women & men in our communities. For a child to reach the age of 5, live in depressed circumstances, experience trauma, be hampered in attending school etc – then it is almost too late. NGOs, CBOs, Private sector, church bodies, Government agencies – this is not a competition. Let us co-ordinate/ link our efforts!
  2. Social development is not a business. The only business we should be running is the business of running ourselves out of a job. This would mean that the challenges we have thrown our money and efforts at, are improving. Not regressing. This is not about setting up an NGO, agency etc for the purpose of receiving funding to pay ourselves to “eat a food”, “pay a bill”, “live a little”. With that attitude we’ve already lost.
  3. Social development is not an opportunity for “slave master” tactics or political advantage. With all due respect constituency leaders, MPs, Ministers, Parish coordinators etc this is not about gaining a little mileage through “handout leadership”. I want “hand-up leadership”. This is not about ensuring our friends in high places receive the funding & the projects etc. It is a about the people. The children, the young girls & boys, the women & men in our communities.
  4. Social development is not about a quick fix. Problems that have been years in the making, will not suddenly go away by a 6 month or 2 year project. In the pages of reports that cite the numbers of beneficiaries reached, trained, served etc this does not mean that their lives have improved one iota. We need to start thinking more long-term with our interventions. Aid agencies, it is time you recognize this. Stop baiting the development sector with your carrot money and sending people scampering to meet your rules. Are you sure you know the full face of the problems? Development is not top down. We speak participation, but it seems we are really referring to tokenism.

I want to know your thoughts. Send me your opinion, let’s talk. Nothing changes when we sit silent.

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Goodbye World ~ from the Children who were …

borrowed image (no copyright infringement intended)

My heart is crying on account of the recent deaths of so many young children this weekend in Jamaica. It is overwhelming. I send out my condolences to the grieving families.

I also grieve on account of the stories of young men being arrested for various criminal activities; stories that aired on the use and abuse of under-aged girls as sex workers etc etc etc.

I call for us in Caribbean society to start looking at a more intelligent way to create a more positive environment for our children. This means Governments & Civil society listening to each other, people in communities uniting to support each other to be better parents and individuals across socio-economic lines find ways to empower each other. Parenting, child-rearing, moulding our future leaders is a collective responsibility best achieved as a joint effort. This is a battlefield where ironically we should all be on the same side. Negative perceptions, attitudes, behaviours, practices etc – those are the enemies.

Am I naive to think that it is not too late for our nations’ children?

When I Grow Up

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Tribute to Lorna: You are gone but never forgotten

The beautiful Lorna
The beautiful Lorna

 

My dear friends, many months ago I shared  a story about a phenomenal woman who smiled her way into my heart in 2009. She was the first person to comment on my blog when created in 2012. When we hugged goodbye in 2011, she promised to attend my wedding. Lorna Hamilton Henry – the force behind Mothers2Mothers TNT.  Selfless, giving, loving…

My dear Lorna is now resting with the angels. Tonight I have no words. I loved her. I will never ever forget her. Her mission lives on. The least I can do is continue to share her story. Please help me to pay tribute to this Christian warrior by sharing her story, checking perceptions  and helping friends and loved ones who live and continue to fight discrimination against Persons Living with HIV/AIDS.

In Lorna’s words: “… When I go out to speak I tell people we are just that – people. People living with a disease but we have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. I tell them discrimination is a form of murder. You may not have stabbed me or shot me but the stress you induce can cause me to deteriorate and die.”  I pray God’s comfort for her grieving family.

Rest in Peace Lorna.

Listen to Lorna on You Tube: 

Click here to Read Lorna’s story: My Live with HIV

More on Lorna the Advocate: Strong Women working toward an AIDS free generation

 

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Earth Day 2014 – Going green in Kingston, Jamaica

Can gardening be called an adventure? After my experiences in the garden the past few months I have to say, “Yes!” The world celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd 2014. For the past two years I’ve either planted a tree or got involved in some other activity. This year I did nothing – or so I thought. I’ve since re-considered and remembered that I have done something HUGE all year.
Strawberry in Island Vignettes garden
Strawberry in Island Vignettes garden

I finally started my own little garden in the heart of Kingston. In the midst of city life I have reaped tomatoes, scotch bonnet peppers, parsley, thyme and very soon, strawberries. This is actually part 2 of my personal downtime which thus far has focused on ornamental plants.

Scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch bonnet peppers

What really motivated me finally? Two things. (1) For years I’ve listened to persons across the Caribbean talk about “eat what you grow, grow what you eat”, “feed the nation”, etc etc etc. (2) I got tired of paying too much in the grocery for these items. These days I enjoy my seasonings fresh from garden to pot.

Parsley
Parsley

My gardening has become the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks to my dear Arthur who got me started with seedlings and endless trips to the garden store for supplies. Enjoy.

Tomato
Tomato

 

Thyme
Thyme

 

Basil
Basil

Thanks also to my dear friend Kate for her encouragement in getting me blogging again.

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Celebrating Mandela: 67 minutes for children in Jamaica

Nelson Mandela fought for social justice for 67 years. On 18th July each year the world commemorates the struggle and values of the former South African President through volunteerism and community service.  Mandela Day is a global call to action that celebrates the idea that everyone has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an impact.

This year I chose to participate in “YOGA FOR CHANGE: Lift up not lock up our children”: an event held through collaboration with Jamaicans for Justice with the Lift Up NOT Lock Up Campaign, the Jamaica Yoga Association (JAYA) and Universal Empress (Nadine McNeil) in association with the South African High Commission. 

Yoga for Social Change
Yoga for Social Change
SAM_3988-001
67 candles to be lit for our children

I joined the JFJ, JAYA and Universal Empress yesterday for 67 minutes of yoga in tribute to Nelson Mandela’s fight for social justice and Jamaica’s fight for the upliftment of her children.

For 60 minutes I stretched and thought that my discomfort paled in comparison to what some of our children in adult lock ups endure. For 7 minutes I meditated to the sounds of birds in Hope Gardens and thought that many of our children are burdened by circumstances that makes the concept of play seem irrelevant. I placed my monetary donation in a jar and expect it to be handed over to a children’s home in Jamaica. The full effect of a candlelight vigil was diminished by the late setting summer sun, but this only highlighted my awareness of the fact that many children will wait for a very long time before they are empowered to let their lights shine.

In Jamaica, there have been numerous reports of children being held in adult lock ups and reports of those being held in state care receiving less than adequate attention for their overall rehabilitation and care. According to Jamaicans for Justice, a citizen’s rights action organisation advocating for good governance:-

“The stories of abuse and neglect of children in both children’s homes and detention centres are too common. We are distressed that the children who are in the greatest need of care and support are getting the least of it,” – according to a recently launched petition by the group.

The JFJ called for -among other things – the removal of children from the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre and police lock-ups and the removal of the designation “Uncontrollable Child” from the legislation as a reason to lock up a child.

Additionally, the group has called for a revision of the Child Care and Protection Act and the Corrections Act, and the creation of smaller rehabilitative centres for children – not juvenile jails.

On the other hand Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna has strongly opposed statements by the JFJ, pointing out that some 148 children have been removed from police jails between January last year and May this year.

SAM_3979-001
Lift up NOT lock up our children

Here is one video posted by the JFJ that speaks to the situation for some children. While there are some elements I personally disagree with in the way in which JFJ’s message is packaged, the message itself is not to be discounted. I make a call to you to check the reports and judge for yourself.

“Lift up not lock up our children”

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Engaging the Guyanese Diaspora

“Once you are a Guyanese, you are always a Guyanese,” (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, Hon Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett)
Guyana
Guyana

The history of increased migration from Guyana to Europe, North America and the Caribbean started in the early 1980’s due to the unstable economic conditions which prevailed during that period. Over the years, the migrant Guyanese population has increased, and so has the desire to maintain a sense of identity, a connection to their place of origin and to contribute to the development of their home country. (Source: IOM Development Fund Project)

Do not miss this opportunity! Complete the survey now! Here is the linkLet’s Build Guyana Together!

On September 26th 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) launched the Guyana Diaspora Initiative in New York. This Initiative resulted from the recognition of the Government of Guyana that there is a need for a structured mechanism for assessing, profiling and engaging the Guyanese diaspora. The more I searched for information on this project, the more I grew excited. Here was a real chance for a country that is known for its rich resources and brilliant population to engage the skills and knowledge of its citizenry absentia for its development.

Do not miss this opportunity! Complete the survey now! Here is the linkLet’s Build Guyana Together!

Part of the project is an online platform whereby Guyanese all over the world can log in, register and complete a survey aimed at ascertaining skill sets. The focus seems to be on mapping of skills and not conducting a census of numbers. To be eligible to take part one must either be Guyanese or of Guyanese parentage and living abroad.

This survey is intended to inform the hosting of a Diaspora Conference and eventually the Government of Guyana’s strategy of engagement of its diaspora population.

Do not miss this opportunity! Complete the survey now! Here is the link: Let’s Build Guyana Together!

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Engaging the Jamaican Diaspora

So many exciting initiatives are taking place in the Caribbean and I have had a virtual information feast finding out about it all from coast to coast! I am excited to share information on a Conference that will be taking place in Jamaica  around better engaging the Diaspora population to contribute to the development of the country.
This proud Jamaican displays his merchandise. Taken at Cross Roads, Kingston
This proud Jamaican displays his merchandise. Taken at Cross Roads, Kingston

The MacMillan dictionary defines Diaspora (/daɪˈæsp(ə)rə/) as, the movement of a large group of people from their home country to other countries in the world

Statistics seem to show for instance that the numbers of Jamaicans and Guyanese living in the diaspora is probably equal to, if not more than the population living within the country. In fact the IOM (International Organisation on Migration) is currently (Guyana) or will be supporting (Jamaica) these two countries’ efforts to map the skills and investment interests within their diaspora populations. (For more on these two initiatives, please visit these two links: Jamaica to establish database of overseas professionals & Guyana Diaspora Project).

Well here is information for an upcoming fora where the Jamaican diaspora can get involved:

Looking on in Half Way tree Jamaica
Looking on in Half Way tree Jamaica

Jamaica Diaspora Conference 2013 (June 2013)

The Biennial Jamaica – Diaspora Conference, convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, is the global forum that connects Jamaicans from all over the world with Jamaicans in the home country every two years. The event seeks to strengthen existing linkages and networks, and to build alliances for Jamaica’s development and standing in the world (Extract from website).

Why, you may wonder, all this attention to the diaspora population? Well it is estimated that remittances make up some 17% of GDP and diaspora tourists may constitute some 11-15% of overall visitors. Further Professor Neville Ying, Executive Director of the Jamaica Diaspora Institute (JDI), estimates that there are possibly more than 187 Diaspora organisations that make significant contributions to Jamaica in the areas of health, education, sports, investment etc.

It is precisely because of the recognition of this value and potential that the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation and its operating arm – Jamaica Diaspora Institute was established in 2009. Visit Maximising the value of the diaspora to Jamaica’s sustainable development for more.

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Sonje Ayiti: My Haiti earthquake memoir

Today I close the chapter on memories of the Haitian earthquake. I will begin a new chapter in this book. I will focus on the life that is flourishing in Haiti. First though I must give you an appreciation for how conditions were for the various aid workers that made their way to the country in early 2010, myself included.

Busy Haitian Marketplace
Busy Haitian Marketplace

Living Conditions

I stumbled across this chapter in my memoir… It is difficult to imagine just what a mean feat the entire expedition is without some appreciation of the physical circumstances that must be endured by the volunteers. Apart from the pervasive dust and heat, volunteers spend many hours cramped in buses travelling over extremely rough roadways. Food consists of dried goods and essentials consumed for their nutritional value. Some days this may be supplemented by a hot meal. Bottled water tastes almost like honey to your parched throat and for the first time I find myself draining every drop of water from the bottle. Most nights volunteers sleep on the ground in sleeping bags or on low cots, at least two nights were spent on the seats of the buses. Running water is a commodity and as such bathing becomes an every other night experience. Many areas of the country are without electricity so one must quickly get accustomed to the starlight which is in itself a magnificent sight to behold.

Day of Fast and Prayer
Day of Fast and Prayer

A Tense Moment

For anyone glued to their television set in the weeks following the earthquake, it was impossible to miss Anderson Cooper relate stories of escaped prisoners from a collapsed jail, rapes of women within the camps and the danger faced by contingents transporting food supplies. This was our encounter… Night travel is definitely not recommended and there were enough media reports to warn us of the dangers. During the time we were there Haiti observed three days of fasting and praying. As such we would see large gatherings of people during the day and night. On our first night we stopped our entourage as there was a large crowd in the street and for a few moments we were not certain of what was taking place. A tense few minutes ensued and our mood was quickly changed from one of boisterous rejoicing to tense watchfulness. We resumed our journey once we realised that a police vehicle was nearby and that it was merely a large church service that was taking place in the streets. We were on our way to St. Marc having made our way from the border.

Stranded at the Border Crossing

Yes, we were stranded! After several hours of setting up clinics and feeding members of various communities we arrived at the Haiti/Dominican Republic border only to find ourselves locked out of the DR and stranded in Haiti. This is what I found in my memoir… The night met us camped out at the border crossing into the Dominican Republic. Despite the crazy, three hour, belly jerking, pothole riddled dash to get there on time; we found that the transport from the Dominican Republic failed to show. Wow, so close and yet so far. The border gates closed, the sun disappeared and night set in with us sitting, lying and sprawled on the gravely ground of the roadway and the hard seats of the bus. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated wet wipes as much as I did just then, as it was the closest to a bath I was going to get for at least 40 hours! I was simply exhausted.

The True Meaning of Gratitude

Five hours, nine security checkpoints and one bathroom stop lay between us and our flight to Trinidad. The security checks have been implemented since the recent attempt to traffic children out of Haiti.

One month and a few pounds heavier later, I can truly appreciate what I have. I pray to God that I will never have to see the day my very survival depends on another. To see someone turn away in defeat because they can no longer help me or to see pitying eyes averted from my naked, unwashed and under-nourished body. I know I am blessed.

Within a Camp
Within a Camp

I find myself longing to go back. It’s almost like the land of Haiti grows on you. Despite the rigours and hardships, it is difficult to turn your back on the vast need there. The people of Haiti need us as much as we need the disorderly sanity of our lives to remain intact…

Three years later, in 2013, I am still grateful for all that I have. Thanks for sharing this journey with me through my raw thoughts in my memoirs. I have officially put the full stop in place. Can’t wait to tell you about my more recent discoveries of the land of Haiti – next post!

Related Stories:

Sonje Ayiti – A Page from my Haiti Earthquake Memoirs

Sonje Ayiti, Rappelant Haiti, Remembering Haiti

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Sonje Ayiti: A Page from my Haiti earthquake memoirs

In 2010, a mere few weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, one NGO in Trinidad & Tobago was able to mobilize 2 humanitarian aid/missionary groups – totaling perhaps 100 per group, land them safely in Haiti and reach out to six (6) communities, that had been severely affected by the earthquake. I was one of those humanitarian aid workers.

Sorting Aid Supplies
Sorting Aid Supplies

Three years later, on the eve of my aid mission, I find myself trying to reconcile the Haiti I met back then with the Haiti I now know exists based on the findings of my Christmas sojourn – the bustle, the rich culture, the life, the love, the inexplicable pride for all things Haitian. As I sit and try to make sense of it all, I find myself turning to the pages of an article I wrote three years ago: Encounter: Helping in Haiti.

Even today the words still have the ability to transport me back to that time. I’ve finally decided to share some of the imagery with you and invite you to read the entire article at your leisure.

St. Marc, Gonaives, Carrefour, Port au Prince, Jacmel, Timounette…

To you – names on a map; to me – a reminder of the most difficult (emotionally, spiritually & physically) days of my life. Through collaboration with more than 16 partner agencies in Haiti we distributed about USD 60,000 in aid, fed over 1500, set up medical clinics and treated many in the communities.

An Encounter in Santo Domingo…

My eyes are drawn to these words in my memoir… “I remember walking into the airport terminal to buy some food. There was a group of persons sitting a short distance away from me. I noticed one of the women reading the writing on my jersey. As I passed she said, “I thank you for coming. My people thank you.” It was an extremely poignant moment for me and I could barely respond to her with a half-smile. I needed no other reassurance that we were needed.”

Visiting a Camp
Visiting a Camp

A Depressing Reality…

I read on in my memoir and the following words remind me of the mental frustration I took around with me for the people of Haiti… “In my mind I can no longer separate the days spent there. The scenery was the same each day – dust, hot sun, motorcycles, tap taps (covered vans), fallen homes, rubble, makeshift tents made with scraps of material, persons bathing in rivers, drains, any waterways at all, people speaking in a tongue that was hardly familiar. The need is so great sometimes it was overwhelming. These people are in need of everything. Long after I have returned home to relative comfort, their need is still there. Their homes are still destroyed; they still need shelter, water, food and medicine. They are still unable to account for members of their families.”

I close my memoir at this point. I simply must continue tomorrow. Dawn is breaking above the mango trees in my garden, signalling a fresh promise for today. For now I’ll push away the memories and enjoy the birdsong outside instead. Tomorrow – A Tense Moment in Haiti & Stranded at the Border.

Stay Tuned! 

Related Posts: Sonje Ayiti/ Remembering Haiti; Joyeux Noel from Island Vignettes, Haiti

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Sonje Ayiti; Rappelant Haïti; Remembering Haiti

Saturday January 12th 2013 commemorated three (3) years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Twelve (12) days later, at least 52 aftershocks were recorded. It was estimated that over 300,000 lost their lives, 1,000,000 made homeless, countless injured, infrastructure destroyed. As the rest of the Caribbean and the world looked on in shocked horror, bodies were piled and buried in old graves and at mass grave sites. Max Beauvoir, a Vodou priest, protested the lack of dignity in mass burials, stating, “… it is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion, it is desecration” (Wikipedia).

Photo courtesy of http://www.britannica.com(No copyright infringement intended)
Photo courtesy of http://www.britannica.com
(No copyright infringement intended)

Geologically minded folk put forth their explanations for the cause of the tragedy, while those of religious persuasion reflected on the role of Haitian vodou in causing yet another disaster over the Haitian landscape. For us in the Caribbean, we bemoaned Haiti’s fate. How could such a thing happen in our own backyard? The international community swung into action and predictably every major multilateral organisation, developed country, association, club and individual got involved. The power of human compassion was indeed evident.

Photo courtesy of http://www.haitiquake.com/ (No copyright infringement intended)
Photo courtesy of http://www.haitiquake.com/ (No copyright infringement intended)

What is less known, is the Caribbean’s role in the Haitian Caribbean disaster response. The following extract is taken from Press Release 63/2010 issued on 9 February 2010 by the CARICOM Secretariat:

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) More than 300 persons from eleven Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States and Associate Members have so far been involved in the response to the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January.

The Region’s initial response was spearheaded by Jamaica, the sub-regional focal point with responsibility for the northern geographic zone of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) which includes Haiti among its five countries. CDEMA is the regional response mechanism for natural disasters.

Personnel from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, The Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands along with Jamaica form the CARICOM Contingent which has been providing support in seven areas after the initial search and rescue, medical, security and engineering teams had been supplied by Jamaica within 48 hours of the earthquake.

CARICOM Banner: Helping Haiti. Photo courtesy http://www.caricom.org (No copyright infringement intended)
CARICOM Banner: Helping Haiti. Photo courtesy http://www.caricom.org (No copyright infringement intended)

CARICOM’s continuing interventions in Haiti include: Emergency Response Coordination; Medical Assistance; Logistics, inclusive of the distribution of relief supplies and engineers assessments; Security; CARICOM Civilian Evacuation and Resource Mobilisation. The Region’s interventions have stretched outside of the capital to locations such as Killick, Leogane, Archaie, Montrouis, lle de la Gonave and Gonaives.

The Emergency Response Coordination was primarily to deliver critical technical support to Haiti while establishing an in-country base camp for a CARICOM-coordinated operation. In the week following the quake, CDEMA had deployed a Tactical Advance Party (TAP) to meet with the Cabinet Minister of the Interior Ministry, Mr. Pierre Andre Paul to discuss Haiti’s immediate needs and to ascertain how CARICOM could assist. Against this backdrop, a Special Coordinator, Brigadier General (Ret) Earl Arthurs of Belize, was appointed to ensure that CARICOM’s response on the ground was effective and to establish a link between CDEMA and Haitian officials as well as international agencies and countries involved in the relief effort.

All photo rights reserved by owner via www.flickriver.com. (No copyright infringement intended)
All photo rights reserved by owner via http://www.flickriver.com. (No copyright infringement intended)

Grief, shock, horror, a sense of hopelessness and renewed faith in the power of prayer. These are just a few of the emotions described to me by my friend Lydia* (name changed) as we sat on a bed ten (10) months later and relived her experience as forever etched in her memories.

In the next article of my Haitian memoir, we will follow one unique Trinidad and Tobago NGO that was able to overcome logistical challenges and send disaster relief teams & supplies to Haiti – even as many international organisations were still planning their method of intervention.

Stay tuned.

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